Guideline Post

Evidence-Based Medicine Assessment of Ultrasound-Guided Regional Anesthesia

Mar 1, 2016, 00:00 AM by ASRA

From Neal JM, Brull R, Horn, JL, et al. The second American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine evidence-based medicine assessment of ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia: executive summary. Reg Anesth Pain Med. 2016;41(2)181-94. doi: 10.1097/AAP.0b013e3181d22fe0


Objectives: In 2009 and again in 2012, the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine assembled an expert panel to assess the evidence basis for ultrasound guidance as a nerve localization tool for regional anesthesia.

Methods: The 2012 panel reviewed evidence from the first advisory but focused primarily on new information that had emerged since 2009. A new section was added regarding the accuracy and reliability of ultrasound for determining needle-to-nerve proximity. Jadad scores are used to rank study quality. Grades of recommendations consistent with their level of evidence are provided.

Results: The panel offers recommendations based on synthesis and analysis of literature related to (1) the technical capabilities of ultrasound equipment and its operators, (2) comparison of ultrasound to other methods of nerve localization with regard to block characteristics, (3) comparison of block techniques where ultrasound is the sole nerve localization modality, and (4) major complications. Assessment of evidence strength and recommendations are made for upper- and lower-extremity, truncal, neuraxial, and pediatric blocks.

Conclusions: Scientific evidence from the past 5 years has clarified and strengthened our understanding of ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia as a nerve localization tool. High-level evidence supports ultrasound guidance contributing to superior characteristics with selected blocks, although absolute differences with the comparator technique are often relatively small (especially for upper-extremity blocks). The clinical meaningfulness of these differences is likely of variable importance to individual practitioners. The use of ultrasound significantly reduces the risk of local anesthetic systemic toxicity as well as the incidence and intensity of hemidiaphragmatic paresis, but has no significant effect on the incidence of postoperative neurologic symptoms.

What's New in This Update?This evidence-based assessment of ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia reviews findings from our 2010 publication and focuses on new meta-analyses, randomized controlled trials, and large case series published since 2009. New to this exercise is an in-depth analysis of the accuracy and reliability of ultrasound guidance for identifying needle-to-nerve relationships. This version no longer addresses ultrasound for interventional pain medicine procedures, because the growth of that field demands separate consideration. Since our 2010 publication, new information has either supported or strengthened our original conclusions. There is no evidence that ultrasound is inferior to alternative nerve localization methods.

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This guidance was published March 1, 2016, and is currently under review.

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