Nerve Stimulator and Multiple Injection Technique for Upper and Lower Limb Blockade: Failure Rate, Patient Acceptance, and Neurologic Complications

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To evaluate the failure rate, patient acceptance, effective volumes of local anesthetic solution, and incidence of neurologic complications after peripheral nerve block performed using the multiple injection technique with a nerve stimulator, we prospectively studied 3996 patients undergoing combined sciatic-femoral nerve block (n = 2175), axillary blocks (n = 1650), and interscalene blocks (n = 171). The success rate and mean injected volumes of local anesthetic were: 93% with 22.6 +/- 4.5 mL in the axillary, 94% with 24.5 +/- 5.4 mL in the interscalene, and 93% with 28.1 +/- 4.4 mL in the sciatic-femoral nerve blocks. Patients receiving combined sciatic-femoral nerve block showed more discomfort during block placement and worse acceptance of the anesthetic procedure than patients receiving brachial plexus anesthesia. During the first month after surgery, 69 patients (1.7%) developed neurologic dysfunction on the operated limb. Complete recovery required 4-12 wk in all patients but one, who required 25 wk. The only variable showing significant association with the development of postoperative neurologic dysfunction was the tourniquet inflation pressure (<400 mm Hg compared with >400 mm Hg, odds ratio 2.9, 95% confidence intervals 1.6-5.4; P < 0.001). We conclude that using the multiple injections technique with a nerve stimulator results in a success rate of >90% with a volume of <30 mL of local anesthetic solution and an incidence of transient neurologic complication of <2%. Implications: Based on a prospective evaluation of 3996 consecutive peripheral nerve blocks, the multiple injection technique with nerve stimulator allows for up to 94% successful nerve block with <30 mL of local anesthetic solution. Although the data collection regarding neurologic dysfunction was limited, the withdrawal and redirection of the stimulating needle was not associated with an increased incidence of neurologic complications. Sedation/analgesia should be advocated during block placement to improve patient acceptance.(Anesth Analg 1999;88:847-52)

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