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Sonographic Imaging of the Obturator Nerve for Regional Block
  1. Julie Soong, M.D.,
  2. Ingeborg Schafhalter-Zoppoth, M.D. and
  3. Andrew T. Gray, M.D., Ph.D.
  1. Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco General Hospital, San Francisco, California, USA.
  1. Reprint requests: Andrew T. Gray, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care, Room 3C-38, San Francisco General Hospital, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94110. E-mail: graya{at}


Background and Objectives: Today, there is a growing appreciation of the importance of the obturator nerve in clinical anesthesia. The aim of this study is to describe the ultrasound appearance of the obturator nerve for potential utility in guiding these nerve blocks.

Methods: We scanned left and right inguinal regions of 20 volunteers lateral and distal to the pubic tubercle (PT) and assessed visibility, size and shape, and depth from the skin of common obturator nerves and their associated divisions. In addition to the volunteer study, we retrospectively reviewed a clinical series of obturator nerve blocks performed with ultrasound guidance and nerve stimulation.

Results: The obturator nerve can be sonographically visualized by scanning along the known course of the nerve; the anterior division characteristically converges toward the posterior division along the lateral border of the adductor brevis muscle to form the common obturator nerve more proximally. In the set of 20 volunteers, 25% (10/40) of common, 85% (34/40) of anterior, and 87.5% (35/40) of posterior obturator nerves were sonographically identified. The common obturator nerve was visualized 1.3 ± 1.5 cm distal and 2.3 ± 1.2 cm lateral to the PT. Divisions were visualized 2.1 ± 2.0 cm distal and 2.1 ± 1.2 cm lateral to the PT. The nerves (common, anterior, and posterior) averaged 2.7 ± 1.2 mm, 1.4 ± 0.6 mm, and 1.7 ± 0.6 mm in anterior-posterior dimension and 9.0 ± 4.3 mm, 9.6 ± 3.9 mm, and 10.9 ± 4.1 mm in medial-lateral dimension and were 25.9 ± 7.6 mm, 15.5 ± 3.9 mm, and 29.3 ± 7.9 mm below the skin surface. The common obturator nerve and its anterior and posterior divisions are all relatively flat nerves with average anterior-posterior/medial-lateral dimension ratios of 0.32, 0.18, and 0.18, respectively. In the clinical series, nerve identification was confirmed with nerve stimulation (n = 6 block procedures, mean threshold stimulating current for evoked adductor contraction = 0.70 ± 0.14 mA).

Conclusions: The obturator nerve and its divisions are the flattest peripheral nerves yet described with ultrasound imaging. Knowledge of the obturator nerve's ultrasound appearance facilitates localization of this nerve for regional block and may increase success of such procedures.

  • Obturator nerve block
  • 3-in-1 block
  • Ultrasound
  • Sonography
  • Peripheral nerve block

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  • Presented in part at the International Anesthesia Research Society 80th Clinical and Scientific Congress, San Francisco, CA, March 25-29, 2006.