Ultrasound guidance has led a surge of interest in transversus abdominis plane (TAP) block for postoperative analgesia following abdominal surgery. Despite or because of the numerous descriptive applications and techniques that have recently populated the literature, results of comparative studies for TAP block have been inconsistent. This systematic review pragmatically addresses many unanswered questions, specifically the following: what are the effects of surgical procedure, block dose, block technique, and block timing on TAP block analgesia?
Eighteen intermediate- to good-quality randomized trials that included diverse surgical procedures were identified. Improved analgesia was noted in patients undergoing laparotomy for colorectal surgery, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, and open and laparoscopic appendectomy. There was a trend toward superior analgesic outcomes when 15 mL of local anesthetic or more was used per side compared with lesser volumes. All 5 trials investigating TAP block performed in the triangle of Petit and 7 of 12 trials performed along the midaxillary line demonstrated some analgesic advantages. Eight of 9 trials using preincisional TAP block and 4 of 9 with postincisional block revealed better analgesic outcomes. Although the majority of trials reviewed suggest superior early pain control, we were unable to definitively identify the surgical procedures, dosing, techniques, and timing that provide optimal analgesia following TAP block. This review suggests that our understanding of the TAP block and its role in contemporary practice remains limited.