Several approaches exist to produce local anaesthetic blockade of the brachial plexus. It is not clear which is the technique of choice for providing surgical anaesthesia of the lower arm, although infraclavicular blockade (ICB) has several purported advantages. We therefore performed a systematic review of ICB compared to the other brachial plexus blocks (BPBs). This review was originally published in 2010 and was updated in 2013.
The objective of this review was to evaluate the efficacy and safety of infraclavicular block (ICB) compared to other approaches to the brachial plexus in providing regional anaesthesia for surgery on the lower arm.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library (2013, Issue 5); MEDLINE (1966 to June 2013) via OvidSP; and EMBASE (1980 to June 2013) via OvidSP. We also searched conference proceedings (from 2004 to 2012) and the www.clinicaltrials.gov trials registry. The searches for the original review were performed in September 2008.
We included any randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared ICB with other BPBs as the sole anaesthetic technique for surgery on the lower arm.
Data collection and analysis
The primary outcome was adequate surgical anaesthesia within 30 minutes of block completion. Secondary outcomes included sensory block of individual nerves, tourniquet pain, onset time of sensory blockade, block performance time, block-associated pain and complications related to the block.
In our original review we included 15 studies with 1020 participants and excluded two. In this updated review we included seven new studies and excluded six, bringing the total number of included studies to 22 and involving 1732 participants. The control group intervention was the axillary block in 14 studies, supraclavicular block in six studies, mid-humeral block in two studies, and parascalene block in one study. One study compared ICB to both axillary and supraclavicular blocks. Nine studies employed ultrasound-guided ICB. The risk of failed surgical anaesthesia 30 minutes after block completion was similar for ICB and all other BPBs (11.4% versus 12.9%, risk ratio (RR) 0.88, 95% CI 0.51 to 1.52, P = 0.64), but tourniquet pain was less likely with ICB (11.9% versus 18.0%; RR of experiencing tourniquet pain 0.66, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.92, P = 0.02). Subgroup analysis by method of nerve localization, and by control group intervention, did not show any statistically significant differences in the risk of failed surgical anaesthesia. However when compared to a single-injection axillary block, ICB was better at providing complete sensory block of the musculocutaneous nerve (RR for failure 0.46, 95% CI 0.27 to 0.60, P < 0.0001). ICB had a slightly longer sensory block onset time (mean difference (MD) 1.9 min, 95% CI 0.2 to 3.6, P = 0.03) but was faster to perform than multiple-injection axillary (MD -2.7 min, 95% CI -3.4 to -2.0, P < 0.00001) or mid-humeral (MD -4.8 min, 95% CI -6.0 to -3.6, P < 0.00001) blocks.
ICB is as safe and effective as any other BPBs, regardless of whether ultrasound or neurostimulation guidance is used. The advantages of ICB include a lower likelihood of tourniquet pain during surgery, more reliable blockade of the musculocutaneous nerve when compared to a single-injection axillary block, and a significantly shorter block performance time compared to multi-injection axillary and mid-humeral blocks.