Can a sympathetic nerve block relieve pain?

A sympathetic nerve block is a medical therapy, where an anesthetic solution (and sometimes a steroid) is injected into nerve bundles to help relieve your chronic pain. These nerve blocks target your sympathetic nervous system—a network of nerves that branch out from your spine to your body—affecting your digestion, breathing, and more.

Sympathetic nerve blocks offer temporary relief from pain, making it easier for patients to engage in physical therapy, which can stimulate mobility and decrease pain. The block numbs the pain generated by your nerves, leading to improved quality of life.

The procedure typically includes receiving intravenous (IV) medication to make you feel relaxed and sleepy before the nerve block is inserted. X-rays or other technology such as fluoroscopy are sometimes used to make sure the nerve block accurately targets the bundle of nerves. Your doctor will numb the area in your neck or back with a local anesthetic and inject the anesthetic solution (and sometimes other medicines) into the bundle.

Treatments are relatively quick (about 30 minutes), and patients usually can go home afterwards. Common side effects include soreness at the injection site and some weakness. Keep in mind some patients might need several treatments because everyone responds differently.

Research on the effectiveness of sympathetic nerve blocks is somewhat mixed. They don’t work for everyone, and pain relief might lessen over time. Depending on the type and location of your pain, other nerve blocks such as epidural steroid injections might be more appropriate. Sympathetic nerve blocks also might be most effective as part of a comprehensive pain management plan. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider if a sympathetic nerve block is right for you.

Published on: May 18, 2017

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