Sympathetic Nerve Block

Treating Nerves with the Sympathetic Nerve Block

A sympathetic nerve block is used in the diagnosis and treatment of pain related to the nerves of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is a network of neurons that regulates the body’s involuntary processes. It controls the body’s fight-or-flight response, regulates body temperature, and changes to the cardiovascular system.

What Causes Sympathetic Dysfunction?

The sympathetic nervous system halts response once the stressor has exited. Breathing rate, blood pressure, and hormones return to normal levels. Sometimes, the body doesn’t settle back into the baseline normal function. This can occur due to temporary and reversible conditions. The sympathetic nervous system can also become overactive due to numerous diseases:

  • Cardiovascular diseases such as chronic heart failure, ischemic heart disease, and hypertension.
  • Type II diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Parkinson’s disease

How Does a Sympathetic Nerve Block Relieve Pain?

The sympathetic nerves form a bundle outside the spinal column in networks of nerve cell bodies called ganglia. The ganglia send information from the brain to the body when they perceive danger.

A sympathetic nerve block is an injection of a numbing substance in an area surrounding the sympathetic nerves in the neck or lower back. This temporarily ‘turns off’ the nerves and reduces pain.

A substantial reduction in pain confirms a diagnosis of sympathetic nerve pain. This condition is caused when the sympathetic nervous system sends pain signals to the brain. It is uncommon but chronic and may cause intense pain.

After the first successful administration of the nerve block, subsequent blocks can be injected if the pain continues to keep decreasing. The nerve block is administered in a site located close to the area experiencing pain. If the pain is felt in the lower part of the body, a lumbar sympathetic block may be administered to a ganglion near the lower spine.

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What Happens During the Procedure?

After an assessment of your symptoms, your doctor will determine which sympathetic treatments are necessary. For safety, an IV may be started and a sedating medicine given for relaxation. You will be asked to lie with your face down and your doctor will proceed to administer an injection containing anesthetic to the nerves near your spine. Fluoroscopic guidance will be used to direct the needle to the targeted sympathetic nerves.

You may feel a slight sting when receiving the injection. If you received IV sedation, please make arrangements for someone to drive you home.

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What to Expect After the Nerve Block Treatment

You can return to your daily activities after a day of rest. If the procedure improves your pain, you may receive a series of injections one to two weeks apart for long-term pain relief. Sometimes, only three injections are required. Some chronic pain issues may require six injections.

You may or may not find an improvement in pain in the hours following the procedure. It is common to observe increased warmth or some soreness in the affected area for a couple of hours after receiving the block. If the injection was administered in the stellate ganglion (located in the neck, on either side of the voice box), you may experience temporary side-effects such as difficulty swallowing, droopy eyelids, and temporary changes in voice. Eat small chunks of food and sip liquids carefully or through a straw until the effects resolve.
The reduction in pain after a sympathetic block along with pain medicines should help you participate more effectively in physical therapy and enjoy a good quality of life.

Find Out if Sympathetic Blocks Are the Answer to Your Pain

Sympathetic blocks do not work for all pain problems. Book a consultation with us to determine the appropriate course of treatment.

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