Your scheduled surgery may require an arm block, which is an injection of local anaesthetic solution around the nerves of your arm or shoulder which will mean that you will experience much less pain after your surgery. This will be done by your anaesthetist in the operating theatre a short time before surgery, often after you have been sedated.

The injection for a shoulder operation will be done in the skin above the shoulder, and for arm or hand operations it will be placed at the top of your arm. It will sometimes be possible to do your operation with you just sedated, or you may need a general anaesthetic, which is where you go to sleep for the operation.

If you remain awake for your operation, you won’t be able to see the surgery but you may hear what’s going on at the time. You may be given more sedation so that you have very little memory of the procedure. Your anaesthetist will discuss these options with you prior to the surgery, usually in the ward.

After you have been given the arm block, you will find that your arm will become heavy and feel numb. This may last for only a couple of hours after the operation or for many hours depending on the solution used and the type of surgery. Some of the side effects of arm blocks can be:

  • A lump or bruise at the injection site, which may persist for a few days after the operation.
  • Persistent tingling or numbness, which may last a day or so. This is usually only in a small area.
  • After an arm block for shoulder surgery, you may have a hoarse voice, drooping eye, or blurred vision for a few hours after surgery. This is due to the local anaesthetic solution spreading to nearby nerves and is not at all dangerous.

There are risks with an arm block just as there are risks with any procedure where local anaesthetic is given. These risks are similar to those with an injection that you may receive at the dentist. They are exceptionally rare but may include:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Seizures
  • Permanent nerve damage

After surgery, you may need strong tablets for pain and sometimes an injection. You may need a sling and possibly an intravenous drip in the other arm. If there are any major concerns about your surgery, they should be discussed with your surgeon prior to your hospital admission.

Your anaesthetist will visit you in hospital prior to surgery to discuss your anaesthetic and any of your queries.