Having a local or regional anaesthetic
Local and regional anaesthetics are used to numb part of your body during an operation or a procedure. They are usually given by injection.
- Local anaesthetics are usually given to you while you are awake and are used for minor procedures only.
- Regional anaesthetics are usually given to you while you are awake, in the anaesthetic room. The most common regional anaesthetics that we use at Guy’s and St Thomas’ are spinal, epidural and brachial plexus blocks.
We clean the site of the injection and ask you to keep still while you have the injection. You only have your operation or treatment when the area to be treated is numb.
During the procedure
During the operation or treatment, we use a cloth screen. This means that you cannot see the part of your body that we are operating on.
For all anaesthetics, you are attached to monitors to measure your heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels.
You might notice a warm tingling feeling as the anaesthetic starts to work. Some people feel that the numb part of their body does not belong to them.
Except during some minor procedures, the anaesthetist is always near you and you can speak to them at any time.
There is always a chance that your local or regional anaesthetic might have to be changed to a general anaesthetic.
If you are having a local or regional anaesthetic, you might also be given some sedation to help you relax.
The most common regional anaesthetics that we use at Guy’s and St Thomas’ are spinal, epidural and brachial plexus blocks.
Spinal and epidural anaesthetics are used for operations on the lower half of your body.
These are single injections, which take only a few minutes to work and last about 2 hours. We put a needle through the thin layer around the nerves and spinal cord.
We give these injections through a thin tube (catheter) that goes into your back using a needle. The tube is left in your back and removed after the surgery once you are comfortable. It is used for operations that are longer than 2 hours or when pain relief is needed for several days.
Brachial plexus blocks
We can give these injections for hand, arm and shoulder surgery. You might have the injection in the side of your neck, above or below your collar bone, or in your armpit. This depends on which part of the body we are operating on.
We use a needle to inject local anaesthetic around the nerves. At first, your arm feels warm and tingly. Within about 40 minutes, it is numb and heavy.
Your arm is supported in a sling (a piece of cloth tied around your neck) until it feels strong again.
After local or regional anaesthetic
It might take a few hours for feeling to return to the area of your body that has been numbed.
Resource number: 2737/VER5
Last reviewed: June 2023
Next review: June 2026