Background: The single-injection axillary block is rapidly performed but gives unpredictable results. Axillary block by multiple nerve stimulation technique (MNS) gives better results, but takes longer to perform. Transarterial (TA) injections of high doses of local anaesthetics are very successful. This double-blind study compared both block effectiveness and anaesthesiologic time consumption in 100 patients, having an axillary block by either TA or MNS techniques.
Methods: 45 mL of 1% mepivacaine with adrenaline 5 μg/mL was used in each patient. Five mL was injected subcutaneously. In the TA group, 20 mL was injected deep to, and 20 mL superficial to the axillary artery. In the MNS group, four terminal motor nerves were electrolocated in the axilla, and injected with 10 mL each. Analgesia was assessed every 10 min and when needed supplemented after 30 min. The block was considered successful when analgesia was present in all sensory nerve areas distal to the elbow.
Results: MNS group required 10δ2 min (meanδ1 SD) for the initial block performance compared with 7δ2 min for TA group, P<0.001. Latency of the initial block was shorter and the frequency of supplemental analgesia lower in the MNS group (mean 17 min and 12%), than in the TA group (25 min and 38%, respectively), P<0.001. All incomplete blocks were successfully supplemented by electrolocating the unblocked nerves. However, the total time to obtain 100% success rate was shorter in the MNS group (30 min), than in the TA group (38 min), P<0.001. The adverse effects (accidental intravascular injections and axillary haematomas) were fewer in the MNS group.
Conclusion: In the hands of anaesthetists experienced in nerve electrolocation, the MNS technique of an initial axillary block by four separate injections of 10 mL of mepivacaine produces faster and more extensive block than the TA technique by two separate injections of 20 mL. Hence, the MNS technique requires fewer supplementary blocks and results in faster patient readiness for surgery than the TA technique.