Technical and interpretive problems of peripheral nerve stimulation in monitoring neuromuscular blockade in the intensive care unit

Ann Pharmacother. 1996 Feb;30(2):165-72. doi: 10.1177/106002809603000211.


Objective: To review the literature and provide an overview of the technical and interpretive problems associated with peripheral nerve stimulation in monitoring neuromuscular blockade in the intensive care unit.

Data sources: A computerized search on MEDLINE from 1985 through 1994 was performed to identify English-language comparative studies, abstracts, and review articles pertaining to peripheral nerve stimulation, train-of-four monitoring, and neuromuscular blockade in the critical care setting.

Study selection and data extraction: Relevant studies in humans were selected and information was extracted on the use of peripheral nerve monitoring in the critically ill.

Data synthesis: Use of peripheral nerve stimulation is complicated in the intensive care unit. Problems may occur with the patient, the device, as well as operator technique, all of which may lead to errors in interpretation of the depth of paralysis. The critically ill patient has changing comorbid disease states and total body water composition, which may impair the accuracy or reproducibility of measurements. Technical problems relate to the operation of the device, electrode placement, and suboptimal delivery of the desired current. Difficulties in performing peripheral nerve stimulation and interassessor variability contribute to errors of interpretation.

Conclusions: These difficulties compromise the precision, accuracy, and reliability of the peripheral nerve stimulator as a tool for monitoring neuromuscular blockade in the critically ill. Peripheral nerve stimulation should be used in conjunction with clinical parameters to make decisions regarding dose adjustments. Doses should be reduced as much as possible to provide the minimum depth of paralysis that is clinically appropriate. Technical directions and training programs for peripheral nerve stimulation should be developed, and designated individuals should be trained in its application. Large, prospective, controlled studies are necessary to evaluate the incidence of prolonged paralysis or motor neuropathy with administration of neuromuscular blocking agents in patients whose dose is adjusted on the basis of peripheral nerve stimulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Neuromuscular Blocking Agents / pharmacology*
  • Peripheral Nerves / drug effects
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiology*


  • Neuromuscular Blocking Agents