The trend towards regional anesthesia began in the late 1800s when William Halsted and Richard Hall experimented with cocaine as a local anesthetic for upper and lower limb procedures. Regional anesthesia of the upper limb can be achieved by blocking the brachial plexus at varying stages along the course of the trunks, divisions, cords and terminal branches. The four most common techniques used in the clinical setting are the interscalene block, the supraclavicular block, the infraclavicular block, and the axillary block. Each approach has its own unique set of advantages and indications for use. The supraclavicular block is most effective for anesthesia of the mid-humerus and below. Infraclavicular blocks are useful for procedures requiring continuous anesthesia. Axillary blocks provide effective anesthesia distal to the elbow, and interscalene blocks are best suited for the shoulder and proximal upper limb. The two most common methods for localizing the appropriate nerves for brachial plexus blocks are nerve stimulation and ultrasound guidance. Recent literature on brachial plexus blocks has largely focused on these two techniques to determine which method has greater efficacy. Ultrasound guidance has allowed the operator to visualize the needle position within the musculature and has proven especially useful in patients with anatomical variations. The aim of this study is to provide a review of the literature on the different approaches to brachial plexus blocks, including the indications, techniques, and relevant anatomical variations associated with the nerves involved. Clin. Anat. 27:210-221, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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