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Learning About a Brachial Plexus Block

Nervous system, including the brachial plexus

What is a brachial plexus block?

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves between your spine and your shoulder. For some surgeries on the shoulder, arm, or hand, a doctor may do a brachial plexus nerve block. This is an injection (shot) of numbing medicine that helps keep your pain level lower during and after surgery.

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

The shot usually goes into your neck or just above your collarbone. Sometimes it goes into the armpit.

How is a brachial plexus block done?

Before a brachial plexus block, you may get medicine to keep you relaxed and comfortable. The doctor may use ultrasound to help guide the nerve block needle.

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

What can you expect after a brachial plexus block?

The shot will leave your arm partly or totally numb for a while. Your doctor will tell you how long. Follow your doctor's instructions carefully.

You will need someone to drive you home.

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

Problems from a nerve block are rare. There is a small risk of problems like 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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