Regional anesthesia is a method used to temporarily block feeling in one area of the body. You may have regional anesthesia before a medical procedure or surgery. A health care provider who specializes in giving anesthesia (anesthesiologist) injects a type of medicine near a nerve or a group of nerves. This medicine makes that area of the body numb. Regional anesthesia allows you to be awake during the procedure or surgery but keeps you from feeling pain in the affected area.

There are three types of regional anesthesia:

  • Spinal anesthesia. This is a one-time injection of medicine into the fluid that surrounds your spinal cord. This numbs the area below and slightly above the injection site.
  • Epidural anesthesia. This is another medicine that may be placed into your back, but just outside of the protective tissue that covers your spinal cord. Instead of a one-time injection, the medicine is often given gradually over time through a small tube (catheter) that remains in your back for as long as pain control is needed.
  • Peripheral nerve block. This is an injection that is given in an area of the body other than the spine to block all feeling below the injection site. Peripheral nerve blocks may be given as a single injection before your procedure or may be given through a catheter for as long as you need pain control.

Regional anesthesia can be used alone or in combination with other types of anesthesia. Compared to using medicine that makes you fall asleep (general anesthetic), regional anesthesia has many benefits, such as:

  • Improved pain control after your procedure or surgery.
  • Less nausea, vomiting, or drowsiness after your procedure surgery. A faster recovery.

Tell a health care provider about:

  • Any allergies you have.
  • All medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbs, eye drops, creams, and over-the-counter medicines.
  • Any use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.
  • Any problems you or family members have had with anesthetic medicines.
  • Any blood disorders you have.
  • Any surgeries you have had.
  • Any medical conditions you have or have had, especially heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or sleep apnea.
  • Whether you are pregnant or may be pregnant.

What are the risks?

Generally, procedures or surgeries are safe. However, problems may occur, including:

  • Pain.
  • Vomiting.
  • Nausea.
  • Itching.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Headache.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Infection.
  • Bleeding around the injection site.
  • Trouble urinating.
  • Allergic reactions to medicine.

What happens before the procedure or surgery?

Staying hydrated

Follow instructions from your health care provider about hydration, which may include:

  • Up to 2 hours before:— you may continue to drink clear liquids, such as water, clear fruit juice, black coffee, and plain tea.

Eating and drinking restrictions

Follow instructions from your health care provider about eating and drinking, which may include:

  • 8 hours before: — stop eating heavy meals or foods, such as meat, fried foods, or fitty foods.
  • 6 hours before:— stop eating light meals or foods, such as toast or cereal. Stop drinking milk or drinks that contain milk.
  • 2 hours before: — stop drinking clear liquids.

Medicines

Ask your health care provider about:

  • Changing or stopping your regular medicines. This is especially important if you are taking diabetes medicines or blood thinners.
  • Taking medicines such as aspirin and ibuprofen. These medicines can thin your blood. Do not take these medicines unless your health care provider tells you to take them.
  • Taking over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements.

General instructions

  • Plan to have someone take you home from the hospital or clinic.
  • If you will be going home right after the procedure, plan to have someone with you for 24 hours.
  • You may need to have blood or imaging tests.
  • Ask your health care provider what steps will be taken to help prevent infection. These may include washing skin with a germ-killing soap.
  • If you use a sleep apnea device, ask your health care provider whether you should bring it with you on the day of your procedure or surgery.

What happens during the procedure or surgery?

  • Depending on the medical procedure you are having done, an IV may be inserted into one of your veins.
  • The anesthesiologist will do a physical exam to find the best location to give the regional anesthesia. To locate the nerve, he or she may also use:
  • A device that activates the nerve and causes your muscles to twitch (nerve stimulator).
  • An imaging tool that uses sound waves to create images of the area (ultrasound).
  • You may be given a medicine to help you relax (sedative).
  • A medicine called a local anesthetic may be injected to numb the area where the regional anesthetic will be injected.
  • You will get regional anesthesia by injection or through a catheter.
  • The anesthesiologist will check to make sure the medicine is working before the rest of your medical procedure begins.
  • Depending on the type of regional anesthesia you received, you may have a small bandage (dressing) placed over the injection site.

The procedure may vary among health care providers and hospitals.

What can I expect after the procedure or surgery?

After your procedure, it is common to have:

  • Sleepiness.
  • Nausea.
  • Itching.
  • Numbness.
  • Shivering or feeling cold.

Your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood oxygen level will be monitored until you leave the hospital or clinic.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Do not drive for 24 hours if you were given a sedative during your procedure.
  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Do not drive, exercise, or do any other activities that require coordination for 24 hours or as told by your health care provider. Ask your health care provider when you can return to your usual activities.
  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow.
  • If you had a dressing placed over the injection site, only remove it when told to do so by your health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if you:

  • Continue to have nausea and vomiting for more than 1 day.
  • Develop a rash.
  • Have trouble urinating.

Get help right away if you:

  • Have bleeding from the injection site or bleeding under the skin at the injection site.
  • Have redness, swelling, or pain around your injection site.
  • Have a fever.
  • Develop a headache.
  • Develop new numbness or weakness.

Summary

  • Regional anesthesia is a method used to temporarily block feeling in one area of the body. It may be done to block pain during a medical procedure or surgery.
  • Follow instructions from your health care provider about taking medicines and about eating and drinking before the procedure.
  • Ask your health care provider when you can return to your usual activities after the procedure.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.