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Electronic neuromuscular monitoring is not widely used to determine either the reversal requirements for neuromuscular block before extubation of the trachea, or to determine if there is any subsequent postoperative residual neuromuscular block (PORNB).To investigate the incidence of PORNB using acceleromyography after spontaneous recovery of rocuronium-induced block and to compare this with the administration of sugammadex, neostigmine or a placebo.Partially randomised, partially randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind, four-group parallel-arm study.Single-centre study performed between October 2013 and December 2015 in a university hospital.Of the 134 eligible patients, 128 gave their consent and 125 of these completed the study.Patients received general anaesthesia with propofol, sevoflurane, fentanyl and rocuronium. Neuromuscular transmission was measured by acceleromyography (TOF-Watch-SX; Organon Teknika B.V., Boxtel, the Netherlands) but the anaesthetist was blind to the results. If the anaesthetist deemed pharmacological reversal to be necessary before extubation of the trachea then patients were assigned randomly to receive either sugammadex (2.0 mg kg−1), neostigmine (0.05 mg kg−1) or a placebo. In the postanaesthesia care unit, an independent anaesthetist, unaware of the treatment given, assessed the neuromuscular function using acceleromyography.The incidence of a normalised train-of-four ratio less than 0.9 on arrival in the recovery room.In total, 125 patients were recruited. Neuromuscular block was allowed to recover spontaneously in 50 patients, whereas the remainder received either sugammadex (27), neostigmine (26) or placebo (22). The number of cases with PORNB were one (3.7%), four (15%), 13 (26%) and 10 (45%) after sugammadex, neostigmine, spontaneous recovery and placebo, respectively. Sugammadex and neostigmine were more effective than placebo [odds ratio (OR): 0.05, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.005 to 0.403, P = 0.005; OR: 0.22, 95% CI: 0.056 to 0.85, P = 0.028, respectively]. Sugammadex performed better than spontaneous recovery (OR: 0.11, 95% CI: 0.014 to 0.89, P = 0.039) unlike neostigmine (OR: 0.52, 95% CI: 0.15 to 1.79, P = 0.297). Yet, antagonism (pooled data) was more effective than spontaneous recovery (OR: 0.3, 95% CI: 0.1 to 0.9, P = 0.03).Although pharmacological reversal based on clinical signs was superior to spontaneous recovery it did not prevent PORNB, irrespective of the reversal agent.The study is registered under EUDRACT number 2013-001965-17.