Continuous peripheral nerve blocks: a review of the published evidence

Anesth Analg. 2011 Oct;113(4):904-25. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e3182285e01. Epub 2011 Aug 4.


A continuous peripheral nerve block, also termed "perineural local anesthetic infusion," involves the percutaneous insertion of a catheter adjacent to a peripheral nerve, followed by local anesthetic administration via the catheter, providing anesthesia/analgesia for multiple days or even months. Continuous peripheral nerve blocks may be provided in the hospital setting, but the use of lightweight, portable pumps permits ambulatory infusion as well. This technique's most common application is providing analgesia after surgical procedures. However, additional indications include treating intractable hiccups; inducing a sympathectomy and vasodilation to increase blood flow after a vascular accident, digit transfer/replantation, or limb salvage; alleviating vasospasm of Raynaud disease; and treating peripheral embolism and chronic pain such as complex regional pain syndrome, phantom limb pain, trigeminal neuralgia, and cancer-induced pain. After trauma, perineural infusion can provide analgesia during transportation to a distant treatment center, or while simply awaiting surgical repair. Catheter insertion may be accomplished using many possible modalities, including nerve stimulation, ultrasound guidance, paresthesia induction, fluoroscopic imaging, and simple tactile perceptions ("facial click"). Either a nonstimulating epidural-type catheter may be used, or a "stimulating catheter" that delivers electrical current to its tip. Administered infusate generally includes exclusively long-acting, dilute, local anesthetic delivered as a bolus only, basal only, or basal-bolus combination. Documented benefits appear to be dependent on successfully improving analgesia, and include decreasing baseline/breakthrough/dynamic pain, supplemental analgesic requirements, opioid-related side effects, and sleep disturbances. In some cases, patient satisfaction and ambulation/functioning may be improved; an accelerated resumption of passive joint range-of-motion realized; and the time until discharge readiness as well as actual discharge from the hospital or rehabilitation center achieved. Lastly, postoperative joint inflammation and inflammatory markers may be decreased. Nearly all benefits occur during the infusion itself, but several randomized controlled trials suggest that in some situations there are prolonged benefits after catheter removal as well. Easily rectified minor complications occur somewhat frequently, but major risks including clinically relevant infection and nerve injury are relatively rare. This article is an evidence-based review of the published literature involving continuous peripheral nerve blocks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Local / administration & dosage*
  • Anesthetics, Local / adverse effects
  • Catheterization
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Parenteral
  • Nerve Block / adverse effects
  • Nerve Block / methods*
  • Peripheral Nerves*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anesthetics, Local