Fundamentals and innovations in regional anaesthesia for infants and children.

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Regional anaesthesia in children has evolved rapidly in the last decade. Although it previously consisted of primarily neuraxial techniques, the practice now incorporates advanced peripheral nerve blocks, which were only recently described in adults. These novel blocks provide new avenues for providing opioid-sparing analgesia while minimising invasiveness, and perhaps risk, associated with older techniques. At the same time, established methods, such as infant spinal anaesthesia, under-utilised in the last 20 years, are experiencing a revival. The impetus has been the concern regarding the potential long-term neurocognitive effects of general anaesthesia in the young child. These techniques have expanded from single shot spinal anaesthesia to combined spinal/epidural techniques, which can now effectively provide surgical anaesthesia for procedures below the umbilicus for a prolonged period of time, thereby avoiding the need for general anaesthesia. Continuous 2-chloroprocaine infusions, previously only described for intra-operative regional anaesthesia, have gained popularity as a means of providing prolonged postoperative analgesia in epidural and continuous nerve block techniques. The rapid, liver-independent metabolism of 2-chloroprocaine makes it ideal for prolonged local anaesthetic infusions in neonates and small infants, obviating the increased risk of local anaesthetic systemic toxicity that occurs with amide local anaesthetics. Debate continues over certain practices in paediatric regional anaesthesia. While the rarity of complications makes comparative analyses difficult, data from large prospective registries indicate that providing regional anaesthesia to children while under general anaesthesia appears to be at least as safe as in the sedated or awake patient. In addition, the estimated frequency of serious adverse events demonstrates that regional blocks in children under general anaesthesia are no less safe than in awake adults. In infants, the techniques of direct thoracic epidural placement or caudal placement with cephalad threading each have distinct advantages and disadvantages. As the data cannot support the safety of one technique over the other, the site of epidural insertion remains largely a matter of anaesthetist discretion.

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