Preventive analgesia by local anesthetics: the reduction of postoperative pain by peripheral nerve blocks and intravenous drugs

Anesth Analg. 2013 May;116(5):1141-1161. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e318277a270. Epub 2013 Feb 13.


The use of local anesthetics to reduce acute postoperative pain has a long history, but recent reports have not been systematically reviewed. In addition, the need to include only those clinical studies that meet minimum standards for randomization and blinding must be adhered to. In this review, we have applied stringent clinical study design standards to identify publications on the use of perioperative local anesthetics. We first examined several types of peripheral nerve blocks, covering a variety of surgical procedures, and second, we examined the effects of intentionally administered IV local anesthetic (lidocaine) for suppression of postoperative pain. Thirdly, we have examined publications in which vascular concentrations of local anesthetics were measured at different times after peripheral nerve block procedures, noting the incidence when those levels reached ones achieved during intentional IV administration. Importantly, the very large number of studies using neuraxial blockade techniques (epidural, spinal) has not been included in this review but will be dealt with separately in a later review. The overall results showed a strongly positive effect of local anesthetics, by either route, for suppressing postoperative pain scores and analgesic (opiate) consumption. In only a few situations were the effects equivocal. Enhanced effectiveness with the addition of adjuvants was not uniformly apparent. The differential benefits between drug delivery before, during, or immediately after a surgical procedure are not obvious, and a general conclusion is that the significant antihyperalgesic effects occur when the local anesthetic is present during the acute postoperative period, and its presence during surgery is not essential for this action.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Anesthesia
  • Anesthetics, Local / administration & dosage
  • Anesthetics, Local / therapeutic use*
  • Arthroplasty
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Nerve Block*
  • Orthopedic Procedures
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control*
  • Peripheral Nerves
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Adjuvants, Anesthesia
  • Anesthetics, Local