Accurate and efficient identification of nerves is an essential component of peripheral nerve blocks. While ultrasound (US) imaging is increasingly used as a guidance modality, it often provides insufficient contrast for identifying nerves from surrounding tissues such as tendons. Electrical nerve stimulators can be used in conjunction with US imaging for discriminating nerves from surrounding tissues, but they are insufficient to reliably prevent neural punctures, so that alternative methods are highly desirable. In this study, an interventional multispectral photoacoustic (PA) imaging system was used to directly compare the signal amplitudes and spectra acquired from nerves and tendons ex vivo, for the first time. The results indicate that the system can provide significantly higher image contrast for discriminating nerves and tendons than that provided by US imaging. As such, photoacoustic imaging could be valuable as an adjunct to US for guiding peripheral nerve blocks.
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