Medically proven alternatives to general anesthesia are the wave of the future in the realm of pain management, surgery, and anesthesiology. With promises of fewer side effects, shorter recovery times, and reduced hospital stays, surgery without a general anesthetic is sounding better and better all the time.
Chief among these new approaches is nerve block anesthesia. Using ultrasound, doctors identify the location of nerves in the affected region. Next, a nerve block injection is administered, which numbs the area. In essence, nerve block anesthetic injections work by interrupting and preventing chemical signals of pain from reaching your brain. Surgeries performed on the arms and legs are considered particularly amenable to nerve block technology. Currently, nerve block anesthesia is also successfully being used to provide pain relief for breast cancer surgery, kidney stone removal, hernia correction, vascular surgery, hip replacement surgery, orthopedic trauma, and more.
What are some of the benefits associated with nerve block anesthesia?
- No loss of consciousness
- More precise anesthesia administration
- A more direct approach to blocking surgical pain
- Choice of staying awake or being sedated during surgery
- Less nausea, vomiting and less itchiness
- Less post-surgery confusion and pain
- Shorter recovery times and hospital stays
- Less post-surgery pain medication required
What are some of the drawbacks of nerve block anesthesia?
- Risk of side effects to the anesthetic, including inflammation and allergic reaction
- Risk of fluid retention
- Risk of blood sugar and blood pressure fluctuations
- Potential for post-surgery mood swings
- Potential for bleeding in patients taking anticoagulant medication
- Nerve tissue damage or destruction in the numbed area and potential partial sensory/motor loss
Recent studies indicate that nerve block anesthesia may actually improve outcomes. In fact, preliminary research is underway regarding the ability of nerve blocks to control or prevent cancer recurrence. For women facing the prospect of a mastectomy, this is welcome news. Central nerve blocks and peripheral nerve blocks are both on the agenda of the European Society of Regional Anesthesia annual congress next week in Bordeaux, France.
What other alternatives to surgery without general anesthesia can you look forward to the next time you have to go under the knife? Your next procedure may be assisted by a surgical robot. Not only is the robot expected to be able to perform complex regional anesthesia procedures, but through the use of remote control, the surgical robot could perform these surgeries long distance (“tele-anesthesia”). While still in the experimental phases, these robotic arms are currently being used to assist in surgeries on simulated patients, and the prospects, according to the editor-in-chief of Anesthesia & Analgesia, are promising.