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Regional anesthesia (also known as nerve blocks or peripheral nerve block) is used to block the sensation in a specific part of your body during and after surgery. It offers numerous advantages over conventional general anesthesia, including faster recovery time, fewer side effects, no need for an airway device during surgery, and a dramatic reduction in post-surgical pain.
Regional anesthesia is appropriate for a wide variety of procedures, from orthopedic surgery such as knee replacement to facial plastic surgery. At UC San Dieog Health System, our Regional Anesthesia Division is recognized for its experience and expertise with this technique.
In regional anesthesia, a numbing medication is injected around the nerves that transmit pain signals from the area involved in the surgery. The procedure “blocks” the nerves, ensuring that you will not feel pain during or immediately after surgery.
Depending on the specific numbing medicine (local anesthetic) used, the effects of the block can last even longer, ranging from hours to days. For some types of surgery, you may receive an infusion catheter, a very thin tube which can continuously bathe the nerve area in numbing medicine for an average of 2-3 days. Once the medication runs out, the catheter is removed, a simple procedure that you or your caretaker can perform.
Because you will experience less pain, you won’t require as much post-surgery pain medication by mouth or intravenously, although we will make these prescriptions available to you. By taking less medication, you’ll reduce potential side effects such as drowsiness, upset stomach or dizziness.
Patients who receive regional anesthesia instead of general can also avoid post-procedure nausea, and recover very quickly after surgery. In many cases, patients may return home within hours of their procedure, rather than days. Hospital stays can also be significantly reduced. For a total knee replacement, for example, a patient can generally return home in two rather than four days.
Additional benefits of regional anesthesia include:
Before your surgery, the regional anesthesiologist will locate the pertinent nerves using ultrasound or electrical stimulation to determine the optimal injection site. The numbing medication can then be injected with precision, without irritating or injecting the nerves themselves. This is generally done one half hour to one hour before your surgery.
Regional anesthesia can be used by itself or with conscious sedation, meaning you are drowsy but do not require an airway device to assist in breathing as you would during general anesthesia. If you prefer, we can also combine regional anesthesia with either intravenous sedation or general anesthesia, both of which allow you to “sleep” during surgery. You will have the opportunity to discuss your preferences with your anesthesiologist prior to surgery.
At UCSD, the Regional Anesthesia Division specializes in performing nerve blocks for patients undergoing a variety of different types of surgery and for controlling post-operative pain. For more information about these procedures at UC San Dieog Health System, and to find out whether you are a candidate, please call the Department of Anesthesiology, 619-543-5720.
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