Nerve Blocks

Continuous Pain Block Catheter Information

A continuous pain block catheter may be part of the multi-modal strategy we employ to help control your post-operative pain. Anesthesiologist “block” nerve signals by injecting local anesthetic (like the Novocain dentists use) around the nerves that go to the upper or lower extremities. A single injection can give 12-24 hours pain relief. A continuous pain catheter (like an epidural) has the ability to continuously numb the nerves of the extremity for 24-72 hours.

How is a pain catheter placed?

The catheter is a tiny plastic tube. It is placed BEFORE surgery while you are awake but sedated. Typically, the anesthesiologist uses ultrasound and/or a nerve stimulator to identify the correct location for the catheter.

How will the extremity feel?

The extremity will be numb, heavy, and may not move appropriately. This indicates a functional block.

Will this catheter eliminate all of my pain?

Typically, the catheter will help considerably with pain control, but it often does not eliminate all of the pain. For this reason, you will still be prescribed opiate pain meds. The catheter will often reduce the use of the opiates and thereby reduce the complications associated with them (nausea, vomiting, constipation).

What are the possible complications from the catheter?

The most common problem from the catheter is fluid drainage around the catheter itself. This is not dangerous and the patient is usually instructed to reinforce the dressing or remove the catheter. The blocks normally have some side effects. Shoulder blocks often lead to temporary partial weakness of swallowing muscles, vocal cord muscles, eye muscles and breathing muscles (diaphragm). It’s common to have hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, a droopy/watery eye, and difficulty getting a deep breath. Knee blocks lead to weakness of the thigh muscles and an increased risk of falling. These side effects resolve when the block wears off. Rare serious complications include permanent nerve injury, pain, and numbness. If you have ringing in the ears, major breathing problems, metallic taste, blurred vision, or uncontrollable shaking, call your physician immediately.

Is the catheter necessary for the surgical procedure?

No. The catheter is offered to the patient to ease the post-operative pain and help rehabilitation but is not integral to the surgical procedure.

Who do I call with questions or concerns?

Please first try to contact the anesthesiologist who placed the catheter or the facility where you had surgery. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, please call our answering service (970) 242-3535.