Superficial (and Intermediate) Cervical Plexus Block

Dr David Stoeter



Specific Contraindications



Volume of LA

Specific complications




Lymph node excision (within the anterior and posterior triangles of the neck)

Clavicular surgery or fractures (may require intermediate cervical plexus block and  its combination with interscalene block, see below)

Central Venous Catheters: Renal replacement therapy central venous catheters, tunnelled  central venous catheters and portacaths inserted into the subclavian or jugular veins (may require combination with ‘Pecs 1’ block for component of pain below the clavicle)

Tracheostomy (see below discussion on safety profile of performing bilateral blocks and risks of respiratory distress due to phrenic nerve or recurrent largyngeal nerve block)

-More commonly in adults: thyroid (again, bilateral) and carotid surgery



-local sepsis or rash



The cervical plexus arises from C1-C4 mixed spinal nerves (fig. 1):


Somatic sensory branches:

-arise from C2-C4 as the mixed spinal nerves leave the sulcus between the anterior and posterior tubercles of the transverse process (note C7 does not have an anterior tubercle or bifid spinous process):

-pass between longus capitis and middle scalene perforating the prevertebral fascia. Note at C4 level the anterior scalene has largely disappeared having taken the bulk of its vertebral bony origin lower down. The bulkiest of the scalene muscles is the middle scalene and remains in view at this level:

then pass behind the internal jugular vein out into the potential space between the investing layer of deep fascia ensheathing the sternocleidomastoid, and the prevertebral layer of deep fascia covering levator scapulae (fig. 4 schematic of deep fascial planes).

-then perforate the investing layer to become subcutaneous.

Thus, the true superficial cervical plexus is that that emerges in the subcutaneous plane from the midpoint of the sternocleidomastoid at the level of the upper margin of the thyroid cartilage.

Some older descriptions of the superficial cervical plexus block actually describe what is more recently described as the ‘intermediate cervical plexus block’ (the portion of the plexus passing between the ‘investing’ and the ‘prevertebral’ layers of deep cervical fascia)1. Scrutinising the literature reveals that some of the studies that investigated superficial cervical plexus blocks were in fact performing intermediate cervical plexus blocks. The interpretation below takes this into account.

Blockade of the intermediate plexus seems likely lead to degrees of phrenic nerve block (in its course anterior to the anterior scalene muscle slightly lower down in the neck- (see fig 5) and potentially, degrees of interscalene brachial plexus block (in its course, again, slightly lower down in the neck-see fig 4) particularly with larger volumes and higher concentrations. Neither complication appears to manifest clinically or cause patient compromise in a large meta-analysis of over 2000 superficial and intermediate cervical plexus blocks in adults6. No such similar study has looked at the paediatric population.

The safety profile of performing bilateral intermediate cervical plexus blocks (vs unilateral) may be more difficult to delineate. There are a series of publications in the last 20 years of small numbers of ASA1-2 patients (20-100 patients) having bilateral intermediate or deep cervical plexus blocks with 0.25% to 0.5% bupivacaine or ropivacaine at no more than 0.1ml/kg with no incidence of features suggestive of respiratory compromise3,4,5,6,7,8. In Pandit’s meta-analysis (over 10,000 deep to superficial blocks), in which unilateral vs bilateral is not specified there was a incidence of 0.03% of respiratory distress (all from deep, not intermediate or superficial blocks) whereby intubation and conversion to general anaesthesia had to be undertaken for presumed phrenic or recurrent laryngeal nerve block2. Bilateral intermediate blocks seem likely to be safe in experienced hands, in patients with reasonable respiratory reserve, at low volume (0.05ml/kg to 0.1ml/kg) carefully placed between the investing and prevertebral fascias, in a more lateral and superficial location (ie avoiding hydrodissecting all the way toward the carotid sheath- see ultrasound schematic). Lower concentrations of local anaesthetics may also contribute toward safety.

The intermediate block may be more successful, as compared with providing more profound analgesia or anaesthesia of the neck particularly for deep structures such as the carotid artery, and deeper muscles that may have an autonomic sympathetic or ‘visceral’ distribution of pain. There is a body of evidence that intermediate cervical plexus blocks, and possibly superficial cervical plexus blocks are at least equivalent (if not better with lower rates of conversion to GA) to deep blocks, and both are significantly safer2,3,4,5,6. The literature is almost exclusively amongst the adult population.

The skin overlying the clavicle is innervated by the supraclavicular branches of the SCP from its medial end all the way to the acromion although there is likely a degree of crossover with the upper and middle trunks of the brachial plexus toward its lateral end6.

Clavicular bony pain (both medially and laterally) may require a combination of superficial or intermediate cervical plexus block with interscalene brachial plexus block (that can be targeted toward C5/6 roots higher in the interscalene groove) due to its contribution to bony innervation6.



Patient semi- recumbent

Patient looking to opposite side

Heading resting on pillow (consider sliding the pillow so it is out of the way of your hand doing the needling)

50mm block needle primed

Linear probe set to higher frequencies

Clean area and estimate midpoint of sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Start deep to identify surrounding structures then focus up to the area of interest. See the bulk of the sternocleidomastoid muscle tailing off to its posterolateral margin.

Look specifically for vascular structures: carotid, jugular and vertebral vessels (use doppler if needed)

If you see the brachial plexus and bulky scalenes muscle you are too low- scan up to the level of the thyroid prominence or higher. You can even count up the transverse processes of the cervical vertebra from C7 to C4 (see ultrasound schematic below).

In plane needle entering from lateral.

For true superficial cervical plexus (skin sensory block only): infiltrate subcutaneously at lateral margin of sternocleidomastoid

For intermediate cervical plexus: advance needle tip through ‘investing’ deep fascia (the ‘pop’ described in the landmark technique) and slide into position underneath sternocleidomastoid muscle keeping an eye on vessels eg internal jugular vein medially.

Aspirate. If no blood, inject local anaesthetic hydrodissecting the plane between the sternocleidomastoid and levator scapulae muscles and their deep cervical fascias (investing and pre-vertebral).

Volume: 0.1 ml/kg, no more than 0.3ml/kg.

Potential complications:

Intravascular injection and its sequelae

If intermediate cervical plexus block, as per interscalene block (although the incidence of serious complications of such blocks in the literature seems close to zero):

-intravascular injection

-phrenic nerve block (sensation of breathlessness)

-interscalene brachial plexus block

-horner’s syndrome (blurred vision, eyelid droop)

-recurrent laryngeal nerve block (hoarse voice)

Top tips:

In smaller children and infants, the sternocleidomastoid muscle is underdeveloped and thin. Care needs to be taken to carefully orientate oneself to recognise the anatomy.

Note the external jugular vein may cross the field: adjusting pressure with the probe may help identify such vessels.

Ultrasound Schematic Sequence:

Scanning from C7/T1 level up to C4: the level of Superficial Cervical Plexus blockade): SCM Sternocleidomastoid, IJV Internal Jugular Vein, CA Carotid Artery, VA and VV Vertebral Artery and Vein, ASM Anterior Scalene Muscle, MSM Middle Scalene Muscle, AT Anterior Tubercle, PT Posterior Tubercle, BP Brachial Plexus

Scan low in the neck at level of C7/T1 showing the interscalene brachial plexus

Scan at C7 showing C7 root dropping into the intervertebral foramen and the morphology of the transverse process, lacking the anterior tubercle, as compared with the more cranial cervical levels.

Scan at C6 showing the appearance of the anterior and posterior tubercles with C6 root dropping into the intervening sulcus

Scan at C5 showing C5 root dropping into its corresponding sulcus. The scalene muscles appear smaller as they tail off into their tendinous attachments to the upper cervical transverse processes. The longissimus and longus capitis (LCa) also appear.

Scan at C4 showing C4 root dropping into the sulcus as the bodies of the scalene muscles tail off into their attachments becoming difficult to discern

Scan at C4 as the C4 root disappears from the view into the intervertebral foramen.  This is a suitable position for the Superficial Cervical Plexus Block. Infiltrate in the plane shown by hydrodissecting toward the carotid artery to generate the ‘Intermediate Cervical Plexus block’.

Ultrasound Sequence of in plane needling and local anaesthetic deposition:

Needle advanced under SCM through investing layer of fascia

Needle Advanced under SCM

Prevertebral fascia displaced down away from investing fascia as local injected

Pool of local anaesthesia left between fascias. Identify the other structures seen in schematic sequence


  1. Pandit JJ, Dutta D, Morris JF. Spread of injectate with superficial cervical plexus block in humans: an anatomical study. Br J Anaesth 2003; 91(5): 733-5.
  2. Pandit JJ, Satya-Krishna R, Gration P. Superficial or deep cervical plexus block for carotid endarterectomy: a systematic review of complications. Br J Anaesth 2007; 99(2): 159-169.
  3. Kulkarni RS, Braverman LE, Patwardhan NA. Bilateral cervical plexus block for thyroidectomy and parathyroidectomy in healthy and high risk patients. J Endocrinol Invest. 1996;19(11):714-8.
  4. Kale S, Aggarwal S, Shastri V, Chintamani. Evaluation of the Analgesic Effect of Bilateral Superficial Cervical Plexus Block for Thyroid Surgery: A Comparison of Presurgical with Postsurgical Block. Indian J Surg. 2015; 77(Suppl 3): 1196–1200.
  5. Su Y, Zhang Z, Zhang Q, Zhang Y, Liu Z. Analgesic efficacy of bilateral superficial and deep cervical plexus block in patients with secondary hyperparathyroidism due to chronic renal failure. Ann Surg Treat Res. 2015; 89(6): 325–9.
  1. Steffen T, Warschkow R, Brändle M, Tarantino I, Clerici T. Randomized controlled trial of bilateral superficial cervical plexus block versus placebo in thyroid surgery. Br J Surg. 2010; 97(7):1000-6.
  1. Suh YJ, Kim YS, In JH, Joo JD, Jeon YS, Kim HK. Comparison of analgesic efficacy between bilateral superficial and combined (superficial and deep) cervical plexus block administered before thyroid surgery. Eur J Anaesthesiol. 2009;26(12):1043-7.

  1. Aunac S, Carlier M, Singelyn F, De Kock M. The analgesic efficacy of bilateral combined superficial and deep cervical plexus block administered before thyroid surgery under general anesthesia. Anesth Analg. 2002;95(3):746-50.
  2. De Sousa AA, Filho MAD, CArvalho GTC. Superficial vs combined cervical plexus block for carotid endarterectomy: a prospective randomized study. Surg Neurol 2005; 63: S22-S25
  3. Stoneham MD, Doyle RD, Knighton JD, Dorje P, Stanley JC. Prospective randomzed comparison of deep or superficial cervical plexus block for carotid endarterectomy surgery. Anesthesiology 1998; 89(4): 907-12.
  4. Pandit JJ1, Bree S, Dillon P, Elcock D, McLaren ID, Crider B.A comparison of superficial versus combined (superficial and deep) cervical plexus block for carotid endarterectomy: a prospective, randomized study. Anesth Analg. 2000 Oct;91(4):781-6
  5. Tran DQH, Tiyaprasertkul W, Gonzalez AP. Analgesia for clavicular fracture and surgery: a call for evidence. Reg Anesth Pain Med 2013; 38: 539-43.


20 patients deep + SCP blocks. 0.375-0.5% bupivacaine. FVC measured before and after. No difference. Awake surgery +/- sedative supplementation. No serious sequelae.

60 patients. Intermediate cervical plexus included. No sequelae with 0.25% bupivacaine <0.1ml/kg

20 patients.bilateral deep. 0.5% ropivacaine. <0.1ml/kg. no sequelae

84 patients intermediate block 0.5% bupiv 0.1ml/kg

Pandit: 0.13% (10 patient) resp insufficiency ?due to RLN vs Phrenic nerve for deep blocks (7558). Of 69 cases converted to GA, 2 were due to resp insufficiency, giving 0.03% needing intubation/GA for resp distress from ?phrenic nerve/RLN palsy but unilateral vs bilateral not clear.