Nerve blocks are a common form of therapy used to treat and manage chronic pain. Groups of nerves that cause pain to a particular region or area of the body can typically be blocked via injections of medication also known as nerve blocks. These nerve blocks are numbing substances that numb the nerves signaling a patient’s pain.
Four Categories Of Nerve Blocks for Chronic Pain
Nerve blocks are typically categorized into four main categories. These four nerve block categories include: therapeutic, diagnostic, prognostic, and pre-emptive.
- Therapeutic nerve blocks are used to treat chronic pain and various pain conditions. These nerve blocks typically contain local anesthetic which can be used to treat acute pain. Studies have shown these nerve blocks effectively improve the quality of life for patients with chronic pain.
- Diagnostic nerve blocks are issued to identify the source of a patient’s pain. These blocks contain a lower level anesthetic that provides a duration of pain relief.
- Prognostic nerve blocks identify the prognosis of certain treatments. For example, a prognostic nerve block may be issued to determine if a permanent solution, such as surgery, would be a more successful route to alleviate the patient’s pain.
- Preemptive nerve blocks are unique in that they are used to prevent subsequent pain often seen as the results of a procedure. This includes symptoms such as phantom limb pain.
Nerve blocks are also broken down into more specific categories based on the type of pain or location of pain that the patient is experiencing. These specific nerve blocks are sympathetic, stellate ganglion, and facet joint blocks.
- Sympathetic nerve blocks are performed to determine if there is existing damage to the sympathetic nerve chain. This includes a network of nerves that run the entire length of the spine and are responsible for controlling the body’s involuntary functions.
- Stellate ganglion blocks are a type of sympathetic block that are also used to identify damage to the sympathetic nerves. However, stellate ganglion blocks are used more specifically to identify nerve damage to the head, neck, chest, and arms.
- Facet joint blocks are conducted in the facet joints of the spine and are also known as zygapophysial blocks. These are used to determine whether a facet joint is the cause of pain.
Nerve Blocks by Location
Nerve blocks can be injected in various areas depending on the cause and location of a patient’s pain. Some of the most common nerve blocks by anatomical location include…
- Trigeminal nerve blocks for Trigeminal Neuralgia (face)
- Subarachnoid and Celiac nerve blocks (abdomen and pelvis)
- Supraorbital nerve blocks (forehead)
- Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar epidurals (neck and back)
- Maxillary nerve block (jaw)
Side Effects of Nerve Blocks
While studies have shown that nerve blocks can be highly effective in treating chronic pain, side effects are always possible. Everyone’s body reacts differently to medical treatments, but common side effects may include soreness at the injection site, rash, itching, bleeding, elevated blood sugars, and extra energy. While this may not happen to everyone, it is important to contact your doctor if you begin experiencing side effects outside of what is considered normal or if you’re experiencing anything causing concern.
Nerve blocks are specifically for patients with nerve damage or neurological conditions such as Trigeminal Neuralgia or chronic back pain. Patients who do not have nerve damage may not see the results from nerve blocks. However, patients experiencing chronic pain from nerve damage can benefit greatly from nerve blocks. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you think that nerve blocks may be the best option to treat your chronic pain.
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Often, a group of nerves – called a plexus or ganglion – causes pain to an area of the body. This pain can be “turned off” by using a specific injection that blocks the pain signals from reaching the brain. This is called a nerve block.
Nerve block injections are used to treat chronic pain when medications or other treatments prove to be ineffective or cause negative side effects. They allow a damaged nerve proper time to heal, provide temporary pain relief, and can be used to identify a specific cause of pain. Oftentimes, your physician will perform a test block with a local anesthetic. If you have positive results and pain relief from the test block, your doctor will move forward with an injectable nerve block.
Why are Nerve Block Injections Used?
Nerve block injections are used for a variety of purposes. Patients who suffer from acute or chronic pain may receive a nerve block injection for temporary pain relief. Since pain is such an individual experience, nerve blocks are also used to help physicians diagnose the source of pain by measuring the patient’s response to the injection. This is helpful to determine a treatment plan.
Other purposes for nerve blocks are:
- To predict the outcome of any given treatment. Prognostic nerve blocks are performed to determine if a more permanent treatment (surgery) would be more successful in treating pain.
- To avoid surgery, in some cases.
- To prevent additional pain from a procedure or surgery that can cause negative side effects, such as phantom limb pain.
Types of Nerve Blocks
Since nerve block injections can be used for a variety of purposes to help reduce, treat, and prevent pain, it is no surprise that there are many different types of nerve blocks.
The benefit of nerve blocks is that they can be used in almost every area of the body to treat pain. Because of this, there are different nerve block types. Notype of pain should be treated equally. Here are few types of nerve blocks that are available and why they may be utilized in your pain management treatments:
- Therapeutic nerve block: This type of nerve block contains a local anesthetic to control acute pain.
- Prognostic nerve blocks: These are used to help your physician predict the effectiveness and outcome of a given treatment.
- Diagnostic nerve block: This block contains an anesthetic that helps relieve pain and helps pain specialists determine the root cause of chronic or acute pain.
- Sympathetic nerve block: This type of block is used to determine if there is any type of damage or injury to the sympathetic nerve chain – the network of nerves that extends the length of the spine.
- Preemptive nerve blocks: These types of nerve blocks are meant to prevent pain after a surgery that can cause issues like phantom limb pain.
How are Nerve Blocks Performed?
Nerve block injections use imaging guidance – such as fluoroscopy or CT scans – to guide the needle into the injection site. This allows the physician to place the needle in the most accurate location for the injection to be most beneficial. The syringe will be filled with medication, depending on what the patient needs.
A small needle will be inserted through the skin and directed towards the injection site. A small amount of contrast material may be used to confirm needle placement in the appropriate location. The injection itself will be administered with a syringe much like one that would be used for a routine vaccination. The doctor will fill the syringe from a small vial of medication. The type of medication used depends on individual patient needs.
This is typically performed as an outpatient procedure and only takes a few minutes to administer.
Your physician will position you on the table or surface to allow access to the site to be injected. Using imaging guidance, the doctor will identify where the needle needs to be placed. In some cases, more than one injection may be required, depending on the area of pain that needs to be covered. The medication will go into effect rather quickly, but the doctor will have you stay in the office to ensure no immediate and unexpected side effects.
Side Effects and Risks of Nerve Block Injections
Nerve blocks are safe; however, like any procedure and injection, there is always a risk involved. Typically, nerve blocks carry fewer side effects than other types of medication.
Some side effects include:
- Injection site soreness and tenderness
- Damage to nerves
- Elevated blood sugar
- Horner’s syndrome
Nerve blocks provide temporary relief from pain; the results can vary from patient to patient. Speak to your doctor about your options when it comes to relieving your pain so you can determine a course of action. Nerve blocks are among a variety of anesthetics used to treat pain caused by a group of nerves.
Contact Progressive Pain Management to learn more about nerve block injections and how they can help combat your chronic pain. Fill out the form below.