BACKGROUND: Peripheral nerve stimulation is necessary to quantify the level of neuromuscular blockade and prevent prolonged paralysis related to drug accumulation. Some nurses and physicians are hesitant to administer nerve stimulation because of concerns about inflicting pain on the patient. OBJECTIVE: To describe the feeling associated with train-of-four ulnar nerve stimulation, and to quantify discomfort, monitor heart rate response, and define the amount of current necessary to stimulate thumb adduction. METHODS: Healthy, nonmedicated volunteer subjects (N = 39) were asked to describe train-of-four ulnar nerve monitoring at 3 current strengths. Heart rate was monitored throughout the testing procedure. The milliamperes delivered at each current strength and the occurrence of thumb adduction were recorded. RESULTS: Subjects described nerve stimulation generally as an unusual prickly sensation. On a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, the mean discomfort score when stimulated with the current setting at 4 (15.5-23.6 mA) was 3.63. Level 4 stimulation produced thumb adduction in 54% of subjects. No heart rate change occurred in response to nerve stimulation. CONCLUSION: Nerve stimulation by train-of-four method was moderately uncomfortable but not painful. Heart rate response could not be relied on as a measurement of discomfort. Protocols for stimulation should include testing at level 4 and increasing as necessary to cause thumb adduction.

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