What is peripheral nerve block for anesthesia?

Peripheral nerve blocks: Overview

A peripheral nerve block is a way to block pain from a part of the body, such as an arm or a leg. It's used for procedures that are done on one specific area of the body. It can also help relieve pain after a procedure. This can reduce the need for other pain medicines. Sometimes a nerve block may be used to relieve pain from an injury, such as a rib fracture.

Nerve blocks are done by injecting numbing medicine into the area near a nerve or group of nerves. There are different types of peripheral nerve blocks. The type that is used depends on the area of the body that needs to be numbed.

Problems after a nerve block are rare. There's a small risk of nerve damage, infection, or bleeding. Rarely, the medicines used can affect the heart.

What are some common types of peripheral nerve blocks?

Some common types of peripheral nerve blocks include:

  • Femoral nerve block. It's done with an injection into the groin area to numb the femoral nerve. It numbs most of the leg.
  • Popliteal nerve block. It's done with an injection into the back of the knee to numb the sciatic nerve. It numbs most of the lower leg and foot.
  • Brachial plexus block. It's done with an injection into a group of nerves (called the brachial plexus) between the spine and shoulder. The shot is usually given in the neck or just above the collarbone. It numbs the shoulder, arm, and hand.

How can you care for yourself after a peripheral nerve block?

  • Follow all instructions from your doctor about how to take care of the area that was numbed.
  • Be careful not to injure the area while it's still numb.
    • If you move the area, move it slowly and carefully.
    • Be careful with hot and cold. Since you won't feel pain, it's easier for damage from heat or cold to happen.
  • If your doctor leaves a small tube in place to help you stay numb after your procedure, follow your doctor's instructions about how to use it and take care of it.

If you had sedation or general anesthesia

  • Don't sign legal documents or do anything that requires attention to detail until you recover. It takes time for the medicine's effects to completely wear off.
  • Don't drive or operate any machinery for at least 24 hours. Wait until the medicine wears off and you can think clearly and react easily.
  • If you have sleep apnea and you have a CPAP machine, be sure to use it.
  • After the procedure, make sure to rest. Some people will feel drowsy or dizzy for up to a few hours after waking up.
  • Take your time, and move slowly. Sudden changes in position may cause nausea.
  • Don't drink alcohol for 24 hours.
  • You can eat your normal diet, unless your doctor gives you other instructions. If your stomach is upset, try clear liquids and bland, low-fat foods like plain toast or rice.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).

What are the risks of a peripheral nerve block?

Problems after a nerve block are not common. There is a small risk of nerve damage, infection, or bleeding. In rare cases, the medicines used can cause more serious problems, such as heart and breathing problems.

What is a peripheral nerve block?

A peripheral nerve block is a shot of numbing medicine near a specific nerve or group of nerves. It can be used to numb a part of the body (often an arm or a leg) for a procedure. It may also help control pain after the procedure.

Peripheral nerve blocks: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have nausea or vomiting that gets worse or won't stop.
  • You have a fever.
  • The medicine is not wearing off by the time the doctor said it should.
  • You have injured the numb area of your body.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

How is a peripheral nerve block done?

The doctor may use ultrasound or another method to help guide the needle that will be used for the nerve block.

After finding the right spot, the doctor uses a tiny needle to numb the skin. Then the doctor puts the nerve block needle into the numbed area and injects numbing medicine near the nerves. If you are awake, you may feel some pressure. But you should not feel pain.

The nerve block is often used with general anesthesia or with medicine that makes you feel relaxed or sleepy during the procedure. Or the nerve block may be all that's needed. In that case, you can stay awake without feeling pain.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.