Regional anesthesia is a type of anesthesia. It blocks pain to a part of the body without causing sleep.
Reasons for Procedure
Regional anesthesia is used to make the body numb for surgery. It may be chosen:
- Instead of general anesthesia for high-risk surgical patients
- To ease pain from trauma, recent surgery, or medical disease
- To relieve labor pains during childbirth (epidural anesthesia)
- To help people be mobile sooner after surgery and increases duration of pain relief
- To help diagnose cause of pain
This type of anesthesia can allow people to move around sooner after surgery. It may also provide longer-term pain relief.
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review possible problems, like:
- Pain and tenderness around the injection site
- Bruising, infection, or bleeding of the injection site
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Nerve damage
- Medication mistakenly injected into a vein or artery
- Organ damage
The risk of problems may be increased with:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
You may talk to a specialist before surgery. They will ask about overall health or previous reactions to anesthesia.
Leading up to your procedure:
- The doctor may ask you to avoid food and drink after midnight the night before.
- Take any medicine recommended by your doctor.
- Avoid certain medicine if recommended by your doctor.
- Have someone available to drive you home.
Description of Procedure
Medicine may be given to help calm you. The area will be cleaned with a special liquid. A medicine may be applied to the skin or injected into the area. It will numb the area before the regional anesthesia is put in.
The doctor will locate the nerve cluster. The needle will be inserted through the skin to the nerves. The medicine will be released into the nerve. It will affect the nerve and area of the body that nerve controls; for example:
- Epidural and spinal injections are placed near the spinal canal. They can block sensation in the entire lower body.
- Peripheral nerve block is placed near specific nerves that feed just 1 arm or leg. It is often used for knee, shoulder, or arm surgery.
- A cervical nerve block is placed in the neck. It can also block off an area of the shoulder and arm.
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Sensation and motion of the area will slowly return. It can take a few hours or longer before the area is back to normal.
The pain will return in a few hours. It may take up to 2 weeks before pain is eased. Other medicine and treatment can help to ease pain during recovery.
How Long Will It Take?
It takes several minutes or longer to do the injection. Effects often last for 2 to 6 hours.
Will It Hurt?
Slight pain or tingling may be felt with the injection.
Numbness can increase risk for falls or other accidents. Some activity, such as driving, will need to be avoided.
Call Your Doctor
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. Call your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, or discharge from the injection site
- Tingling, numbness, or trouble moving the affected area that lasts longer than expected
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you have been given
- Persistent coughing
- Shortness of breath or chest pain
- Heartbeat abnormalities
- Funny taste or numbness of the mouth
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
American Society of Anesthesiologists
Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society
Anesthesia basics. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/anesthesia-basics.html. Updated September 2015. Accessed February 13, 2020.
Regional anesthesia for surgery. American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine website. Available at: https://www.asra.com/page/41/regional-anesthesia-for-surgery. Accessed February 13, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 9/18/2020