Ropivacaine is an amide local anesthetic structurally related to, but appearing less cardiotoxic, than bupivacaine. The authors' investigation was designed in a randomized, double-blind fashion to compare the clinical effectiveness of ropivacaine and bupivacaine in patients undergoing lower-extremity surgery. Forty-five patients were randomized to receive 20 ml of 0.5% ropivacaine or bupivacaine. Intermittent sensory (pinprick) and motor (Bromage score) measurements were made while the block was in effect, and changes in heart rate, blood pressure and amounts of additional analgesics, sedatives and other medications were also recorded. Presence of tourniquet pain and the quality of anesthesia were also assessed. One patient was excluded from analysis; thus, 22 patients each received ropivacaine or bupivacaine. No differences were found in patient or perioperative characteristics between the groups. The quality and extent of sensory and motor blockade between groups were comparable, although bupivacaine was slightly longer acting. Cardiovascular changes, incidence of tourniquet pain, and the amounts of supplemental medications necessary were also similar between groups. The authors found 0.5% ropivacaine and bupivacaine to be clinically similar in both sensory- and motor-blocking characteristics, with the exception that bupivacaine produced a blockade of slightly longer duration. Because ropivacaine is reported to be less cardiotoxic than bupivacaine in animal studies, the similarity of clinical epidural anesthesia may make ropivacaine the preferred agent.