If you are planning to have surgery and you’ve never had (or heard of) a nerve block, a type of regional anesthesia, you might be surprised to learn how easy and effective it is. The anesthesiologist inserts a fine needle into the surgery site and injects pain medication in an effort to bathe (but not touch) the nerves. Then, when the surgeon makes the incision, the nerves will be too numb to do their usual work of alerting the brain about the pain, which means you won’t feel it.
“Nerve blocks are a way to better control the acute pain at the time of surgery, and it can help us ease the transition to controlling pain when you’re home,” says Jinlei Li, MD, who is Yale Medicine’s director of regional anesthesia for the Center for Musculoskeletal Care and Yale New Haven Hospital’s Saint Raphael Campus. While nerve blocks have been around for decades, improved ultrasound guidance in the 1990s increased the precision of the injections, making them a safer and more effective choice, Dr. Li says.
Unlike with general anesthesia, Dr. Li says patients using nerve blocks receive multiple benefits, including better pain control, less time in the hospital, quicker recovery, and less need for medication when they go home. She has been working to make nerve blocks available to more Yale Medicine patients having musculoskeletal and other types of surgeries, and pursuing research on their effectiveness.