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Comparison of the effectiveness of circumferential versus non-circumferential spread in median and ulnar nerve blocks. A double-blind randomized clinical trial


Background and objectives Circumferential (C) spread of local anesthetic around the nerve is recommended for a successful nerve block. We tested the hypothesis that C spread produces a more complete block than non-circumferential (NC) spread.

Methods We randomized 124 patients undergoing open carpal tunnel syndrome surgery to receive C or NC spread ultrasound-guided median and ulnar nerve blocks. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients who developed complete sensory block measured at 5, 15 and 30 min. The loss of cold sensation was graded as: 0 (complete block), 1 (incomplete block), or 2 (no block). Secondary outcomes included motor block, nerve swelling and adverse events.

Results In group C, complete sensory block at 5 min was 2.4 (95% CI 1.0 to 5.7; p=0.04) times more frequent in the median nerve and 3.0 (95% CI 1.2 to 7.2; p=0.01) times more frequent in the ulnar nerve compared with group C. However, at 15 and 30 min, it was similar between groups. Complete motor block was more frequent in group C than in group NC for both the median nerve: 1.5 (95% CI 1.1 to 2.2; p<0.01) at 15 min, 1.1 (95% CI 1.0 to 1.2; p=0.02) at 30 min, and the ulnar nerve: 1.7 (95% CI 1.2 to 2.6; p<0.01) at 15 min, 1.2 (95% CI 1.0 to 1.4; p<0.01) at 30 min. The incidence of nerve swelling and adverse effects was similar between groups.

Conclusions C spread around the median and ulnar nerves at the level of the antecubital fossa generates more complete sensory and motor blocks compared with NC spread.

Trial registration number EudraCT 2011-002608-34 and NCT01603680

  • brachial plexus
  • ambulatory
  • pharmacology: local anesthetics
  • nerve injury
  • ultrasound in pain medicine
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