Human chest wall function during epidural anesthesia

David O. Warner, Mark A. Warner, Erik L. Ritman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Background: Although epidural anesthesia (EA) can significantly disrupt the function of the respiratory system, data concerning its effects on respiratory muscle activity and the resulting motion of the chest wall are scarce. This study aimed to determine the effects of lumbar EA on human chest wall function during quiet breathing. Methods: Six persons were studied while awake and during mid-thoracic (approximately a T6 sensory level) and high (approximately a T1 sensory level) lumbar EA produced by either 2% lidocaine (two persons) or 1.5% etidocaine (four persons) with 1:200,000 epinephrine. Respiratory muscle activity was measured using fine-wire electromyography electrodes. Chest wall configuration during high EA was determined using images of the thorax obtained by three-dimensional, fast computed tomography. The functional residual capacity was measured using a nitrogen dilution technique. Results: High EA abolished activity in the parasternal intercostal muscles of every participant but one, whereas the mean phasic activity of the scalene muscles was unchanged. High EA significantly decreased the inspiratory volume displacement of the rib cage compared with intact breathing but did not have a significant effect on diaphragm displacement. Therefore, high EA decreased the percentage contribution of rib cage expansion to inspiratory increases in thoracic volume (ΔV(th)) (from 27 ± 2 [MSE] to 10 ± 11% of ΔV(th)). Paradoxic rib cage motion during inspiration (i.e., a net inward motion during inspiration) developed in only one participant. High EA substantially increased the functional residual capacity (by 295 ± 89 ml), with a significant net caudad motion of the end-expiratory position of the diaphragm. In addition, high EA significantly decreased the volume of liquid in the thorax at end expiration in five of the six participants, a factor that also contributed to the increase in functional residual capacity in these persons. Conclusions: Rib cage expansion continues to contribute to tidal volume during high EA in most subjects, even when most of the muscles of the rib cage are paralyzed; the mean phasic electrical activity of unblocked respiratory muscles such as scalenes does not increase in response to rib cage muscle paralysis produced by EA; and high EA increases the functional residual capacity, an increase produced in most participants by a caudad motion of the diaphragm and a decrease in intrathoracic blood volume.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-773
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996


  • Anesthetic drugs, local: etidocaine; lidocaine
  • Anesthetic technique: lumbar epidural anesthesia
  • Lung: functional residual capacity; breathing pattern; intrathoracic blood volume; diaphragm; rib cage
  • Measurement technique: dynamic spatial reconstructor; fast computed tomography; respiratory impedance plethysmography; electromyogram
  • Muscle: respiratory; diaphragm; parasternal intercostal; transversus abdominis; scalene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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