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Learning About a Peripheral Nerve Block

Nervous system, including the peripheral nerves

What is a peripheral nerve block?

For some surgeries, a doctor may do a peripheral nerve block to numb the part of the body involved, often an arm or a leg. Peripheral nerves lead from the spinal cord to other parts of the body, carrying signals for movement and feeling.

The nerve block is sometimes used with medicine that makes you sleep during the surgery. Or the nerve block may be all that's needed, and you can stay awake without feeling any pain.

The nerve block may also help keep your pain level lower after the surgery.

How is a peripheral nerve block done?

Before the nerve block, you will have a tube called an IV placed in your arm. This will be used to give you medicine to make you sleep or keep you comfortable.

The doctor may use ultrasound, X-ray, or another imaging method to help guide the needle that will be used for the nerve block.

After finding the right spot, the doctor uses a tiny needle to numb the skin. Then he or she puts the nerve block needle into the numbed area. If you are awake, you may feel some pressure. But you should not feel pain.

What can you expect after a peripheral nerve block?

The nerve block will leave the area that was numbed, like your arm or leg, partly or totally numb for a while. Your doctor will tell you for how long. Follow your doctor's instructions closely.

If you'll be going home right after the surgery, you'll need someone to drive you.

As the block wears off, you'll start to feel some pain from the surgery. Be sure to take your pain medicines before the pain gets bad.

What are the risks of a peripheral nerve block?

You will be closely watched during the nerve block. That's because the anesthetics used for the nerve block may affect the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system (airway and lungs). They may also affect blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, and other vital functions.

As the needle is put in place during the nerve block, the nerve to be blocked may be touched with the tip of the needle. If this happens, you may feel a sharp sensation like an electrical shock in the part of the body supplied by the nerve. Be sure to let your doctor know if you feel this.

Problems after a nerve block are rare. There is a small risk of seizures, heart problems, damage to nerves, infection, or bleeding. The benefits usually outweigh these risks.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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