Pediatric Regional Anesthesia: Anatomical and Physiological Considerations


Regional anesthesia techniques, such as spinal and epidural blocks, are frequently employed in pediatric patients for a wide range of surgical and medical procedures. It is crucial for healthcare providers to recognize the anatomical and physiological distinctions in the pediatric population in comparison to adults, as these disparities significantly impact the administration and effects of regional anesthesia in children. This article seeks to delve into these variances, offering a comprehensive guide for healthcare professionals.

Anatomical Variances:

  1. Spinal Cord Development and Meninges in Neonates and Infants: The position of the spinal cord tip and meninges undergoes considerable changes during the early years of life. At birth, the spinal cord tip is at L3, gradually ascending to L1-2 by the age of one. Similarly, the position of the meninges shifts from S3 at birth to S4-5 at one year. It is essential to grasp these developmental changes to ensure precise placement of regional blocks.
  2. Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Volume: Infants and children weighing less than 15 kg possess a larger volume of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) at 4 mL/kg body weight, in contrast to the 2 mL/kg in adults. This difference significantly influences the distribution and diffusion of local anesthetics within the central nervous system.
  3. Epidural Space Composition: In infants, the epidural space contains spongy, gelatinous lobules with distinct spaces, allowing for extensive longitudinal spread of injected solutions. This varies from adults, where mature, densely packed fat lobules are separated by fibrous strands in the epidural space.
  4. Vertebral Development: In infancy and early childhood, vertebrae remain cartilaginous. The ossification process is gradual, and any mishandling during the administration of epidural blocks can potentially harm the ossification nucleus.
  5. Sacral Fusion: The late osseous fusion of the sacrum permits intervertebral epidural approaches at various sacral levels throughout childhood.

Physiological Variations:

  1. Myelination: Myelination commences during the fetal period in cervical neuromeres and continues both upward and downward until the 12th year of life. Infants have nerve fibers with smaller diameters, thinner myelin sheaths, and shorter internodal distances, which necessitate the use of lower concentrations of local anesthetics for nerve blocks.
  2. Nerve Fiber Diameter: Pediatric patients do not exhibit the relative resistance to epidural blockade observed in adults, as their nerve fibers have smaller diameters.
  3. Nerve Envelopes: Nerve envelopes in children are loosely attached to underlying nerve structures, facilitating the spread of local anesthetics along the nerves and roots.
  4. Cardiovascular Effects: Following spinal or epidural anesthesia, pediatric patients have a lower incidence of clinically significant hypotension and bradycardia compared to adults. Despite high levels of sympathetic blockade, blood pressure and cardiac index remain stable.

Key Amide Local Anesthetics in Pediatric Regional Anesthesia:

Table 1: Key Amide Local Anesthetics for Pediatric Regional Anesthesia

Local AnestheticConcentration RangeOnset of ActionDuration of ActionPrimary Applications
2-Chloroprocaine2% or 3%ShortShortPeripheral blocks, epidural anesthesia
Lidocaine0.5–2%ShortMediumPeripheral blocks, epidural anesthesia
Bupivacaine0.1–0.5%LongerLongerPeripheral blocks, spinal anesthesia,
caudal or epidural anesthesia and analgesia
Tetracaine1%RapidSpinal anesthesia
MepivacaineComparable toRapidShorter motor blockPeripheral nerve blocks
Ropivacaine0.2–1%ModerateModeratePeripheral blocks, epidural anesthesia
Levobupivacaine0.25–0.5%ModerateModeratePeripheral blocks, epidural anesthesia

Pharmacokinetic Factors:

Table 2: Pharmacokinetic Factors of Amide Local Anesthetics

Distribution in ChildrenLarger volumes of distribution in neonates and infants, reducing peak plasma concentrations after a single injection but increasing the risk of drug accumulation with continuous infusion or multiple injections.
Ropivacaine vs. BupivacaineRopivacaine has a smaller volume of distribution than bupivacaine in adults and likely in children.
MetabolismAmide LAs undergo hepatic metabolism, mainly by cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, with differences in CYP maturation between neonates/infants and adults.
Protein BindingLAs bind to serum proteins, with α1‐acid glycoprotein (AAG) being a crucial binding protein. AAG concentrations increase during inflammatory processes, affecting LA binding. Neonates and infants have lower AAG concentrations, increasing free (unbound) drug fraction.
Enantiomer KineticsS- and R-enantiomers of LAs exhibit similar kinetics and protein binding characteristics.

Pharmacodynamic Factors:

Table 3: Pharmacodynamic Factors of Amide Local Anesthetics

Modulation of Impulse FrequencyLAs primarily affect impulse frequency modulation in nerves, favoring phasic block over tonic block. Phasic block intensity increases with nerve impulse frequency.
Myocardial SensitivityPurkinje fibers in the myocardium are more sensitive to LA blockade of sodium channels. Nerves are immediately blocked due to their rapid baseline activity, whereas heart block intensity increases with tachycardia.
Enantiomer EffectsS-enantiomers cause smaller phasic blocks compared to R-enantiomers, which can affect the heart more slowly. Neonates with faster heart rates may be more sensitive to these differences.
VasoconstrictionLevobupivacaine and ropivacaine cause moderate vasoconstriction, which can influence drug absorption and duration of action in children.

Adjuvants in Pediatric Regional Anesthesia:

Table 4: Adjuvants to Local Anesthetics for Regional Anesthesia in Children

AdjuvantRouteRecommended DoseComments
MorphineEpidural (C, L, T) single shot, Intrathecal30–50 μg/kg, 0.01–0.02 μg/kgEffective in prolonging spinal blockade
FentanylEpidural (L, T) single shot, Epidural continuous1–2 μg/kg, 0.2 μg/kg/hEnhances analgesia with epidural LA
SufentanilEpidural (C, L, T) single shot, Epidural continuous0.5–0.75 μg/kg, 0.1 μg/kg/hProlongs the duration of analgesia
ClonidineEpidural (C, L, T) single shot, Epidural continuous, Intrathecal1–2 μg/kg, 0.08–0.12 μg/kg/h, 1 μg/kgProlongs analgesic effect, minimal sedation
DexmedetomidineEpidural (C), Peripheral nerve block1–2 μg/kg, 0.3 μg/kgEffective adjuvant, enhances analgesia
KetamineEpidural (C, L, T) single shot0.25–0.5 mgCaution in intrathecal use due to spinal cord apoptosis


Understanding the pharmacology of amide local anesthetics and the role of adjuvants is crucial for safe and effective pediatric regional anesthesia. Consideration of pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic factors helps anesthesiologists tailor their approach to each patient, ensuring optimal pain management while minimizing potential risks.


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