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Interscalene Brachial Plexus Blocks Under General Anesthesia in Children: Is This Safe Practice?
  1. Andreas Taenzer, MD, MS,
  2. Benjamin J. Walker, MD,
  3. Adrian T. Bosenberg, MBChB, FFA (SA),
  4. Elliot J. Krane, MD,
  5. Lynn D. Martin, MD, MBA,
  6. David M. Polaner, MD, FAAP,
  7. Christie Wolf, MBS and
  8. Santhanam Suresh, MD
  1. Department of Anesthesiology, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH
  1. Address correspondence to: Andreas Taenzer, MD, MS, Department of Anesthesiology, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, One Medical Center Dr, Lebanon, NH 03756 (e-mail: andreas.h.taenzer{at}


Background and Objectives A practice advisory on regional anesthesia in children in 2008, published in this journal, supported the placement of regional blocks in children under general anesthesia (GA). Interscalene brachial plexus (IS) blocks were specifically excluded, based on case reports (level 3 evidence) of injury, which occurred predominantly in heavily sedated or anesthetized adult patients. Apart from case reports, there is a paucity of data that explore the safety of IS blocks placed in patients under GA, and the level of evidence available on which to base recommendations is limited.

Methods Querying the database of the Pediatric Regional Anesthesia Network (PRAN), we report on the incidence of postoperative neurological symptoms, local anesthetic systemic toxicity, and other reported adverse events in children receiving IS blocks under GA or sedated.

Results A total of 518 interscalene blocks were performed, 390 under GA and 123 with the patient sedated or awake (5 cases had missing status); 472 of these were single injection, and 46 involved the placement of infusion catheters. Eighty-eight percent of blocks were placed with ultrasound guidance, 7.7% with no location device, and 2.5% with a nerve stimulator. No local anesthetic systemic toxicity, postoperative neurological symptoms, cardiovascular complications, or dural puncture was reported in this cohort. There were 1 vascular puncture and 1 postoperative infection. These negative results are compatible with 0 to 7.7/1000 events for each of these complications for IS blocks placed under GA. There was no paralysis, motor block, or sensory deficit beyond the expected block duration time.

Conclusions Analyzing interscalene blocks in children placed under GA, we identified no serious adverse events. The upper limit of the confidence interval for these events is similar to that in awake or sedated adults receiving IS blocks. Based on these prospectively collected data, placement of IS blocks under GA in children is no less safe than placement in awake adults, calling into question the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine advisory proscribing GA during IS block in pediatric patients.

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  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.