Deltoid abscesses are common and painful, often a consequence of injection drug use and seen frequently in emergency departments (EDs). The required incision and drainage can be completed successfully with effective pain relief using a peripheral nerve block. The brachial plexus nerve block works well, however it is technically complex with a low, but potentially serious, risk of complications such as phrenic nerve paralysis. Selective blockade of the axillary nerve eliminates the risks associated with a brachial plexus block, while providing more specific anesthesia for the deltoid region. Our initial experience suggests that the axillary nerve block (ANB) is a technically simple, safe, and effective way to manage the pain of deltoid abscesses and the necessary incision and drainage (I&D). The block involves using ultrasound guidance to inject a 20 mL bolus of local anesthetic into the quadrangular space surrounding the axillary nerve (inferior to the posterolateral aspect of the acromion, near the overlap of the long head of triceps brachii and teres minor). Once injected the local will anesthetize the axillary nerve resulting in analgesia of the cutaneous area of the lateral shoulder and the deeper tissues including the deltoid muscle.
Further research will clarify questions about the volume and concentration of local anesthetic, the role of injected adjuncts, and expected duration of analgesia and anesthesia. Herein we present a description of an axillary nerve block successfully used for deltoid abscess I&D in the ED.