It is controversial whether adding CO2 or sodium bicarbonate to local anesthetics enhances the depth of epidural blockade. Repeated electrical stimulation is a reliable test for assessing epidural analgesia and evokes temporal summation. We used this test to investigate the analgesic effect of lidocaine, with or without CO2 or bicarbonate. Twenty-four patients undergoing epidural blockade with 20 mL lidocaine 2% at L2-3 were randomly divided into three groups: lidocaine hydrochloride, lidocaine CO2, and lidocaine plus 2 mL sodium bicarbonate 8.4%. Pain threshold after repeated electrical stimulation (five impulses at 2 Hz), pinprick, and cold test were performed at S1 and L4. Motor block was assessed. The addition of bicarbonate resulted in higher pain thresholds (P < 0.0001), faster onset of action (P = 0.009), and higher degree of motor block (P = 0.004) compared with lidocaine hydrochloride. We found no significant differences between lidocaine CO2 and hydrochloride. Most of these results were not confirmed by pinprick and cold tests. We conclude that the addition of sodium bicarbonate to lidocaine enhances the depth of epidural blockade, increases inhibition of temporal summation, and hastens the onset of block. Pinprick and cold are inadequate tests for comparing drugs for epidural anesthesia.
Implications: We measured pain perception during epidural anesthesia by delivering electrical stimuli to the knee and foot. We found that the addition of sodium bicarbonate to the local anesthetic lidocaine enhances analgesia. We observed no effect of adding carbon dioxide to lidocaine.