If you have chronic pain, you’ve probably asked around for pain treatment options that might be more effective. In your research, you might have heard of something called a “nerve block.”
There are different types of nerve blocks, varying by the location and intensity of pain. Remember that chronic pain is defined as pain lasting longer than three months. If this describes your pain, and doctors haven’t been able to offer much in the way of a pain solution, a pain management clinic—where nerve blocks are often an option for treatment—might be what you’ve been looking for.
What are nerve blocks?
The goal of a nerve block is pretty clear from the name of this treatment: to block pain signals from nerves. For many, chronic pain is derived from an autoimmune disease, arthritis, an old injury, or another source (usually nerve related). In these cases, there is no specific cure, and a patient’s only option may be to simply manage the pain.
Good thing there are pain management specialists! Many medical companies exist solely to develop pain treatment options, which are in turn provided to the general public through doctors and pain management clinics.
A nerve block, then, becomes an appealing option. This treatment option functions as a local anesthetic or anti-inflammatory treatment, depending on the cause of pain. Nerve blocks are usually administered via injections with the aim of “turning off” the pain signal. Your physician will use image guidance to pinpoint the exact location of the nerve for better results. This type of pain relief is temporary and often administered to the spine, neck, legs, or buttocks.
Diagnostic Nerve Blocks
Diagnostic nerve blocks are used to discover the nerve sending the pain signals. In a diagnostic nerve block session, a doctor injects anesthesia in one section of skin where they think the pain might be originating. After the injection is complete, they allow time to determine how much the pain has decreased. If the pain is still present, they will inject another site, repeating the process until the pain has significantly decreased.
Diagnostic nerve blocks may take a little time in office, but once a patient shows significant improvement in pain levels after injection to one place, the patient can then plan to receive additional nerve blocks or a radiofrequency ablation to this area in the future without having to repeat a diagnostic session.
Sympathetic Plexus Blocks
It might sound funny to call something inside the body “sympathetic”—it’s like we’re personifying tissue and organs. But that’s not the case at all. The sympathetic nerves are bundles of nerves that run the length of the spine from the neck to the tailbone. These nerves run pretty much all of the body’s organs. Keep in mind that a plexus is defined as “a network of…interlacing blood vessels or nerves,” which is how the sympathetic nerves can be described.
When it is determined that pain signals have been transmitting through these sympathetic nerves, a sympathetic plexus block can be helpful. A sympathetic plexus block is a type of nerve block that seeks to stop the pain signals in these nerves. The plexus block is usually administered with local anesthesia, a needle, and x-rays to determine the exact location of the pain-causing nerve.
Medial Facet Joint Blocks
Facet joint blocks involve injection of anesthetic in order to numb a nerve, just like any nerve block. The important thing about this type of nerve block is its location. The name of this type of block is derived from both the medial branch nerves and the facet joint, where the medial branch nerves send pain signals from injured facet joints—located in the neck or back—to the brain.
Usually a medial facet joint block is injected into one of the small joints which can be found on either side of the vertebrae in the spine. A lumbar facet joint block, for example, is injected into a facet joint on both sides of the lower spine. If more than one joint is involved, you may receive more than one injection. This type of block is common for patients with arthritis in their lower backs.
Do I need a nerve block?
The only way to determine if a nerve block is for you is to talk to your doctor and pain management specialist. If you have chronic pain that might be related to nerves near the spine, a nerve block might very well be within the realm of possibility for your treatment.
Do you suffer from chronic pain?