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Evaluation of Brachial Plexus Anesthesia for Upper Extremity Surgery
  1. Michael K. Urban, M.D., Ph.D. and
  2. Barbara Urquhart, R.N.
  1. From the Department of Anesthesiology, The Hospital for Special Surgery, Cornell University Medical College, New York, New York
  1. Reprint requests: Michael K. Urban, M.D., Department of Anesthesiology, The Hospital for Special Surgery, Cornell University Medical College, 535 East 70th Street, New York, NY 10021.


Background and Objectives. Brachial plexus anesthesia is the preferred anesthetic at the authors’ institution for upper extremity surgery. The article is a prospective observational evaluation of brachial plexus anesthesia for surgical success of the block and immediate and postoperative complications.

Methods. Patients for upper extremity surgery (n = 508) received either an interscalene block (n = 266) or an axillary block (n = 242). Surgical anesthesia was achieved in 97% of the patients receiving an interscalene block and 93% receiving an axillary block.

Results. For the interscalene block, a proximal paresthesia (shoulder) was as reliable as a more distal paresthesia (forearm, hand) for shoulder surgery. For performance of the axillary block, the transarterial approach was more successful than a single paresthesia for surgical anesthesia (96% versus 80%). Major immediate complications were infrequent, with only one mild seizure in the axillary block group and evidence of intravascular injection in only two of the patients in the interscalene block group. Many of the patients had mild paresthesias on the first day after the operation, 9% for the interscalene block and 19% for the axillary block. The incidence of postoperative neuropraxias decreased significantly by 2 weeks (interscalene block 3%, axillary block 5%), with only one patient in each group still experiencing symptoms beyond 4 weeks. In the interscalene block group, postoperative neuropraxias were associated with the site of paresthesia used for performance of the block and the use of bupivacaine.

Conclusion. Both interscalene and axillary blocks are safe and effective techniques for upper extremity surgery.

  • axillary block
  • brachial plexus anesthesia
  • interscalene block

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