What to Understand About a Nerve Block
To prevent pain during and after surgery in a specific part of your body, your surgeon and anesthesiologist may recommend a nerve block. This is an injection of local anesthetic, which is performed near specific nerves in the part of your body in question. Sometimes, in addition to a nerve block, a “nerve catheter” may be used to continue to numb that area by keeping the anesthetic in the nerve area for two to three days after your procedure.
The consultation with your anesthesiologist will determine if a nerve block is best in your situation. Since a nerve block is more effective than delivering pain medication intravenously, and comes with fewer side effects then the medications you will likely be prescribed. There is also a likelihood that you can avoid having to be given general anesthesia, though sometimes general anesthesia and a nerve block can be used together.
How Risky Is a Nerve Block?
Nerve blocks do come with risks, as do other forms of anesthesia, though the risk is relatively low. Even in the unlikely event of nerve injury as a result of a nerve block (<0.1%), this tends to be temporary. There is a low risk of infection, as a needle is used, but the procedure is conducted in a sterile fashion, which is why the risk is so low.
What Else Should I Know About the Nerve Block Procedure?
You may have some questions about how the procedure is performed, as well as its effect on your body and on your pain level. Here is a breakdown of some of the basics to understand:
- Pre-op: The nerve block procedure is performed before you enter surgery, and is sometimes performed using ultrasound guidance to guide the needle precisely.
- Timeline: A single nerve block takes about five to ten minutes to perform, and about 15-20 minutes to begin working. You will not be taken to the operating room until the nerve black is confirmed to be working
- Pain: You will be given sedating medication prior to the needle injection, but the needle itself is smaller than that used in an IV
- General anesthesia: You may often have the choice to decide whether or not you are awake during the procedure, and to what degree you are asleep or awake. You will be shielded from seeing the procedure
- Length: The nerve block’s effect depends on the type of medication being used and the specific type of block. Depending on the procedure, it can last for 6 hours up to three days.
Do I Need a Nerve Block?
You will consult with your anesthesiologist before any block is performed, so be sure to ask any questions you have. If you choose not to have the nerve block, painkilling medication such as opiates will be used to dull the pain as much as possible. You should be aware of any side effects of these to make your decision. Most importantly, you can refuse a nerve block. It is not a requirement and will be your final choice.