Postoperative residual neuromuscular block has been recognized as a potential problem for decades, and it remains so today. Traditional pharmacologic antagonists (anticholinesterases) are ineffective in reversing profound and deep levels of neuromuscular block; at the opposite end of the recovery curve close to full recovery, anticholinesterases may induce paradoxical muscle weakness. The new selective relaxant-binding agent sugammadex can reverse any depth of block from aminosteroid (but not benzylisoquinolinium) relaxants; however, the effective dose to be administered should be chosen based on objective monitoring of the depth of neuromuscular block.
To guide appropriate perioperative management, neuromuscular function assessment with a peripheral nerve stimulator is mandatory. Although in many settings, subjective (visual and tactile) evaluation of muscle responses is used, such evaluation has had limited success in preventing the occurrence of residual paralysis. Clinical evaluations of return of muscle strength (head lift and grip strength) or respiratory parameters (tidal volume and vital capacity) are equally insensitive at detecting neuromuscular weakness. Objective measurement (a train-of-four ratio greater than 0.90) is the only method to determine appropriate timing of tracheal extubation and ensure normal muscle function and patient safety.