Intercostal nerve block of the anterior cutaneous branches and the sensibility of the female breast

Ennie Bijkerk*, Anouk J. M. Cornelissen, Micha Sommer, Rene R. W. J. Van der Hulst, Arno Lataster, Stefania M. H. Tuinder

*Corresponding author for this work

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Introduction Better sensation in the reconstructed breast improves the quality of life. Sensory nerve coaptation is a valuable addition to autologous breast reconstruction. There are few publications concerning the sensory nerves of the breast and the nipple-areola complex and reports are contradictory, so it is unknown which nerve is best suited as a recipient for coaptation. The current study serves as a proof of concept. Materials and Methods The areas innervated by the anterior cutaneous branches (ACBs) of the intercostal nerves (ICNs) were studied on two separate occasions in two healthy women. First, the ACBs of ICNs 2-5 were individually blocked using ultrasound. Next, the ACBs of all levels were blocked simultaneously. Sensation was measured using Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments. The numbed areas corresponding to the ICNs were drawn in a raster of 2 x 2 cm. Results The largest area was supplied by the ACB of the 4th ICN, located in the upper (UIQ) and the lower (LIQ) inner quadrants of the breast. The 2nd-largest area was supplied by the ACB of the 3rd ICN. Blockage of ACBs 2-5 affected sensation in the nipple and the areola. Conclusions Blockage of all levels 2-5 partially affected sensation in the nipple-areola complex, suggesting innervation by a nerve plexus consisting of both ACBs and lateral cutaneous branches (LCBs). ACB4 supplied the largest area of the breast in the UIQ and LIQ and could be best suited for sensory nerve coaptation to optimize sensation in the autologously reconstructed breast.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1025-1032
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number7
Early online date23 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • breast cancer
  • breast reconstruction
  • intercostal nerve
  • nipple-areola complex
  • sensation

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