Wired magazine has an excellent article regarding the use of regional anesthesia in the US military. In the last two hundred years, the technique of treating pain has remained effectively the same. Today, using continuous peripheral nerve blocks, pain relief can be more humane and effective for wounded soldiers.
While the process of extracting injured troops from combat zones has been streamlined, the methods for relieving their agony during evacuation has lagged. Until recently, the military’s approach to pain control hadn’t changed much since the days when the battlefield anesthetics of choice were rum, ether, and narcotics.
Now Buckenmaier is leading a group of army doctors and nurses determined, as he puts it, “to drag the military kicking and screaming into the 21st century.” His team believes the future of wartime pain control is a new form of anesthesia called a continuous peripheral nerve block, which takes a more targeted approach by switching off only the pain signals coming from the injured limb, leaving patients’ vital signs and cortical functions unimpaired.
Because nerve blocks affect a precise area of the body, they fall under the category of regional (rather than general or local) anesthesia. An elementary form of regional anesthesia is already widely used in maternity wards: the epidural block, employed to numb the pain of labor and achieved by injecting analgesics and narcotics along the spine.
To further familiarize yourself with regional anesthesia, you should visit the website of the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. It is quite unfortunate that the society does not have webpages dedicated to a full spectrum of available regional techniques throughout the body. One area that they cover moderately-well, in my opinion, is anesthesia of the upper extremity, a.k.a. brachial plexus blocks.