Neurostimulation in Ultrasound-Guided Infraclavicular Block: A Prospective Randomized Trial

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Ultrasound guidance (USG) for infraclavicular blocks provides real time visualization of the advancing needle and local anesthetic distribution. Whether visualization of local anesthetic spread can supplant neurostimulation as the end point for local anesthetic injection during USG block has never been formally evaluated. Therefore, for this prospective randomized study, we recruited 72 patients scheduled for hand or forearm surgery and compared the speed of execution and quality of USG infraclavicular block with either USG alone (Group U) or USG combined with neurostimulation (Group S). In Group U, local anesthetic was deposited in a U-shaped distribution posterior and to each side of the axillary artery using as few injections as possible (1, 2, and 3 injections in 29, 6, and 3 patients, respectively). In Group S, a single injection was made after obtaining a distal motor response with a stimulating current between 0.3 and 0.6 mA. The anesthetic solution consisted of 0.5 mL/kg of lidocaine 1.5%, bupivacaine 0.125%, and epinephrine 1:200 000 (final concentrations). Procedure times were significantly shorter in Group U compared with Group S (3.1 ± 1.6 min and 5.2 ± 4.7 min, respectively; P = 0.006). In Group S, anesthetic spread was mainly anterior to the axillary artery in 37% of patients and mainly posterior in 63% of patients. Thirty minutes after the injection, 86% of patients in Group U had complete sensory block in the musculocutaneous, median, radial, and ulnar nerve territories compared with 57% in Group S (P = 0.007). Patients blocked in Group U with a single injection had the same rate of complete block (86%) as those blocked with more than one injection (86%). Block supplementation rates were 8% in Group U versus 26% in Group S (P = 0.049). Block failure occurred in one patient in Group S because of an inability to obtain a distal stimulation after 20 min. We conclude that USG infraclavicular block is more rapidly performed and yields a higher success rate when visualization of local anesthetic spread is used as the end point for injection. Posterolateral spread of local anesthetic around the axillary artery predicts successful block, circumventing the need for direct nerve visualization.

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