Anesthesia: Regional Anesthesia

Anesthesia: Regional Anesthesia

You’re scheduled for surgery. During surgery, you’ll receive medication called anesthesia to keep you comfortable and pain-free. Your surgeon has decided that you’ll receive regional anesthesia. This sheet tells you what to expect with this type of anesthesia.Man lying on operating table. Healthcare provider is injecting medication into man's IV.

What is Regional Anesthesia?

Regional anesthesia numbs one region of your body. The anesthesia may be given around nerves or into veins in your arms, neck, or legs (nerve block or Bier block). Or it may be sent into the spinal fluid (spinal anesthesia) or into the space just outside the spinal fluid (epidural anesthesia). You may also be given sedatives to help you relax.

Nerve Block or Bier Block

A small area of the body, such as an arm or leg, can be numbed using a nerve block or Bier block.

  • Nerve block: During a nerve block, your skin is numbed. A needle is then inserted near nerves that serve the area to be numbed. Anesthetic is sent through the needle.

  • IV regional or Bier block: For this type of block, an IV line is put into a vein. The blood flow to the area to be numbed is blocked for a short time. Anesthetic is sent through the IV.

Spinal Anesthesia

Spinal anesthesia numbs your body from about the waist down.

  • Anesthetic is injected into the spinal fluid. This is a substance that surrounds the spinal cord in your spinal column. The anesthetic blocks pain traveling from the body to the brain.

  • To receive the anesthetic, your skin is numbed at the injection site on your back.

  • A needle is then inserted into the spinal fluid. Anesthetic is sent through the needle.

Anesthesia Tools and Medications That May be Near You During Your Operation

  • Local anesthetic given through a needle numbs one region of your body.

  • Electrocardiography leads (electrodes) record your heart rate and rhythm.

  • A blood pressure cuff monitors your blood pressure.

  • A pulse oximeter clips on the end of the finger and measures your blood oxygen level.

  • Sedatives may be given through an IV to relax you and keep you comfortable. You may stay awake or sleep slightly.

  • Oxygen may be given to you through a facemask.

Risks and Possible Complications

Regional anesthesia carries some risks. These include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Headache

  • Backache

  • Decreased blood pressure

  • Allergic reaction to the anesthetic

  • Ongoing numbness (rare)

  • Irregular heartbeat (rare)

  • Cardiac arrest (rare)