Safety of Epinephrine in Digital Nerve Blocks: A Literature Review

J Emerg Med. 2015 Nov;49(5):799-809. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2015.05.038. Epub 2015 Aug 4.


Background: Digital nerve blocks are commonly performed in emergency departments. Health care practitioners are often taught to avoid performing blocks with epinephrine due to a risk of digital necrosis.

Objective: To review the literature on the safety of epinephrine 1:100,000-200,000 (5-10 μg/mL) with local anesthetics in digital nerve blocks in healthy patients and in patients with risk for poor peripheral circulation.

Methods: PubMed, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Library were searched in June 2014 using the query "digital block AND epinephrine OR digital block AND adrenaline". The searches were performed without any limits.

Results: Sixty-three articles were identified, and 39 of these were found to be relevant. These include nine reviews, 12 randomized control trials, and 18 other articles. Most studies excluded patients with risk for poor peripheral circulation. Two studies described using epinephrine on patients with vascular comorbidities. No study reported digital necrosis or gangrene attributable to epinephrine, either in healthy patients or in patients with risk for poor peripheral circulation. In total, at least 2797 digital nerve blocks with epinephrine have been performed without any complications.

Conclusions: Epinephrine 1:100,000-200,000 (5-10 μg/mL) is safe to use in digital nerve blocks in healthy patients. Physiological studies show epinephrine-induced vasoconstriction to be transient. There are no reported cases of epinephrine-induced harm to patients with risk for poor peripheral circulation despite a theoretical risk of harmful epinephrine-induced vasoconstriction. A lack of reported complications suggests that the risk of epinephrine-induced vasoconstriction to digits may be overstated.

Keywords: adrenaline; analgesia; digital blocks; digital nerve blocks; digital trauma; epinephrine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Local / methods*
  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Epinephrine / administration & dosage
  • Epinephrine / adverse effects*
  • Finger Injuries / therapy
  • Fingers / pathology*
  • Gangrene / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Necrosis / chemically induced
  • Nerve Block
  • Toes / injuries
  • Toes / pathology*
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / administration & dosage
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / adverse effects*


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents
  • Epinephrine