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What is Regional Anesthesia?

Dr. Carrie Guheen in the OR

If you’ve had an orthopedic surgery in the past, especially at Hospital for Special Surgery, your anesthesiologist may have discussed regional anesthesia with you. At HSS, nearly 90% of our joint replacement procedures are done using regional anesthesia compared with just 25% nationally.

But what is regional anesthesia? It’s an anesthetic technique in which an anesthesiologist puts part of your body to sleep using numbing medications to surround the nerves that supply that part of your body. During the surgery and for some time afterwards, that specific part of your body may be numb and immobile.

A key difference between regional anesthesia and general anesthesia – another type of anesthetic approach – is breathing. Under general anesthesia, patients need a device to help them breathe during surgery; under regional anesthesia, patients sleep as though they were in their own bed. While both techniques have their advantages, we find that a majority of cases at HSS benefit from regional anesthesia.

In theory, patients under regional anesthesia could be totally awake during surgery and never know they were being operated on, but we’ve found that most patients prefer light sedation for comfort’s sake.

Regional anesthesia is linked to a lower incidence of infection, less blood loss, and less post-operative pain after surgery. HSS anesthesiologists are experts in regional anesthesia – in fact, the Department of Anesthesiology at HSS was one of the first departments in the U.S. to use regional anesthesia for a majority of their joint replacement surgeries.

Before surgery, you and your anesthesiologist will meet and discuss your medical history, surgery, and anesthetic options.  While a majority of our patients are well-suited for regional anesthesia, in some cases, general anesthesia may be preferred. If you have any questions or concerns about anesthesia before your surgery, you can contact your surgeon’s office to coordinate a pre-anesthetic consult.


Carrie Guheen, MD, is an Assistant Attending Anesthesiologist at Hospital for Special Surgery.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.