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Ultrasound-Guided (Needle-in-Plane) Perineural Catheter Insertion: The Effect of Catheter-Insertion Distance on Postoperative Analgesia
  1. Brian M. Ilfeld, MD, MS*,
  2. NavParkash S. Sandhu, MD*,
  3. Vanessa J. Loland, MD*,
  4. Sarah J. Madison, MD*,
  5. Preetham J. Suresh, MD*,
  6. Edward R. Mariano, MD, MAS*,
  7. Michael L. Bishop, MD*,
  8. Alexandra K. Schwartz, MD and
  9. Daniel K. Lee, DPM, FACFAS
  1. From the Departments of *Anesthesiology and
  2. Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Diego, CA.
  1. Address correspondence to: Brian M. Ilfeld, MD, MS, Department of Anesthesiology, UCSD Center for Pain Medicine, 200 W Arbor Dr, MC 8770, San Diego, CA 92103-8770 (e-mail: bilfeld{at}


Background: When using ultrasound guidance to place a perineural catheter for a continuous peripheral nerve block, keeping the needle in plane and nerve in short axis results in a perpendicular needle-to-nerve orientation. Many have opined that when placing a perineural catheter via the needle, the acute angle may result in the catheter bypassing the target nerve when advanced beyond the needle tip. Theoretically, greater catheter tip-to-nerve distances result in less local anesthetic-to-nerve contact during the subsequent perineural infusion, leading to inferior analgesia. Although a potential solution may appear obvious-advancing the catheter tip only to the tip of the needle, leaving the catheter tip at the target nerve-this technique has not been prospectively evaluated. We therefore hypothesized that during needle in-plane ultrasound-guided perineural catheter placement, inserting the catheter a minimum distance (0-1 cm) past the needle tip is associated with improved postoperative analgesia compared with inserting the catheter a more traditional 5 to 6 cm past the needle tip.

Methods: Preoperatively, subjects received a popliteal-sciatic perineural catheter for foot or ankle surgery using ultrasound guidance exclusively. Subjects were randomly assigned to have a single-orifice, flexible catheter inserted either 0 to 1 cm (n = 50) or 5 to 6 cm (n = 50) past the needle tip. All subjects received a single-injection mepivacaine (40 mL of 1.5% with epinephrine) nerve block via the needle, followed by catheter insertion and a ropivacaine 0.2% infusion (basal 6 mL/hr, bolus 4 mL, 30-min lockout), through at least the day after surgery. The primary end point was the average surgical pain as measured with a 0- to 10-point numeric rating scale the day after surgery. Secondary end points included time for catheter insertion, incidence of catheter dislodgement, maximum ("worst") pain scores, opioid requirements, fluid leakage at the catheter site, and the subjective degree of an insensate extremity.

Results: Average pain scores the day after surgery for subjects of the 0- to 1-cm group were a median of 2.5 (interquartile range, 0.0-5.0), compared with 2.0 (interquartile range, 0.0-4.0) for subjects of the 5- to 6-cm group (P = 0.42). Similarly, among the secondary end points, no statistically significant differences were found between the 2 treatment groups. There was a trend of more catheter dislodgements in the minimum-insertion group (5 vs 1; P = 0.20).

Conclusions: This study did not find evidence to support the hypothesis that, for popliteal-sciatic perineural catheters placed using ultrasound guidance and a needle-in-plane technique, inserting the catheter a minimum distance (0-1 cm) past the needle tip improves (or worsens) postoperative analgesia compared with inserting the catheter a more traditional distance (5-6 cm). Caution is warranted if extrapolating these results to other catheter designs, ultrasound approaches, or anatomic insertion sites.

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  • Funding for this project was provided by the National Institutes of Health grant GM077026 (principal investigator: Dr. Ilfeld) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (Bethesda, MD), and the Department of Anesthesiology, University of California (San Diego, CA). The contents of this article are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of these entities.

  • Drs. Ilfeld, Sandhu, Loland, Madison, Suresh, Mariano, and Bishop have received funding for other research investigations from Teleflex Medical (Reading, PA), Summit Medical (Salt Lake City, UT), and Stryker Instruments (Kalamazoo, MI). These companies had absolutely no input into any aspect of the present study conceptualization, design, and implementation; data collection, analysis, and interpretation; or manuscript preparation; and none provided funding or product for the present study. Drs. Mariano and Loland previously conducted continuous peripheral nerve block workshops for Stryker Instruments.