What is Nerve Block Treatment?

Nerve Block Treatment

Nerve block treatment is used by physicians to prevent pain signals being sent to the brain via the nerves. Nerves are like telephone cables and they are part of the body’s communication system.

Nerve block treatment is a minimally invasive way to relieve pain and to diagnose nerve injuries. There are two types of procedures which are diagnostic nerve blocks and therapeutic nerve blocks.

Diagnostic Nerve Block

MRI scan

If a patient has symptoms associated with a nerve injury there are various tests used to diagnose the damage. Physical examinations and imaging tests such as X-rays, CT, and MRI scans are used. If these tests do not locate the damage a diagnostic nerve block can be performed.

A physician will inject a temporary local anesthetic into the nerve in the area where the patient has reported pain. If the pain and other symptoms ease following the injection it tells the physician that the nerve is damaged. The physician can then look at the available treatments for the nerve injury.

Therapeutic Nerve Block

Therapeutic Nerve

A therapeutic block is used to manage chronic pain. The treatment is used for both short and long-term pain management. When oral medication does not provide effective pain relief, a nerve block injection is an option. Physicians carry out therapeutic nerve block treatment to avoid patients having to undergo surgery.

Nerve block treatment can be used to stop the pain caused by nerve damage or pain from other sources. Injury and disease often causes pain and the signals can temporarily be blocked.

How is Nerve Block Treatment Carried Out?

Nerve Block

Before the nerves are injected with medication for nerve block treatment, the physician needs to prepare the patient. Patients are asked about their symptoms and a physical examination will be carried out. The physician will then choose the appropriate type of nerve block treatment.

The patient may have to be sedated for some nerve block treatments but not all. Sedation may help to relax the patient if they’re nervous or worried about being injected.

To locate the point where the nerve is that will be blocked, some contrast dye will be injected into the area to be treated. A fluoroscope, which is a type of X-ray machine, is used to locate the nerve.

A needle is inserted into the nerve and the appropriate medication is injected. The nerve is then blocked and the patient will be monitored.

The procedure only takes a few minutes and patients are normally able to go home after a short time. Some patients experience soreness and tenderness in the area that was injected but this subsides after a few days.

What Medication is Used in The Injections For Nerve Block Treatment?

Various types of medication are used by physicians to carry out nerve block treatments. Local anesthetics are commonly used and anti-inflammatory drugs are sometimes needed. Steroids, alcohol, and phenol are added to the syringe for some treatments.

Local Anesthetic

Local Anesthesia

Local anesthetic is used to numb areas of the body, including nerves. There are different types of local anesthetic and the physician will select the most suitable medication. Local anesthetic does not cause permanent numbness and the effect will wear off over a period of time.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

different pills

Anti-inflammatory drugs are used in nerve block treatments to reduce inflammation (swelling) and to reduce pain. Inflammation is the way the body protects itself after an injury. Anti-inflammatory drugs are usually used with a local anesthetic to block nerves.

Steroids

steriods

For some therapeutic nerve block treatments, steroids are added to the local anesthetic. Steroids are an effective way to block pain signals from getting to the brain. Steroids are also used to reduce inflammation in the area that is being treated.

Alcohol And Phenol

diagram

If a patient is in chronic pain, the physician may decide that the best course of action is to kill the nerve. Injecting a nerve with alcohol or phenol will permanently destroy it so that it can no longer send signals. This nerve blocking technique is often used for cancer patients.

Are There Any Risks When Having Nerve Block Treatment?

Any medical procedure carries risks and patients are made aware of any possible side effects of nerve block treatment. The risks and side effects associated with injecting nerves include:

  • Injecting the wrong nerve
  • Delivering the drugs to the bloodstream
  • Paralysis
  • Damage to the spinal cord
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Radiation damage from the fluoroscopy

What Are The Most Common Nerve Block Treatments?

To understand nerve block treatment properly, it’s useful to look at some of the most common procedures carried out by physicians. All of the treatments are used to diagnose nerve damage and to relieve pain.

Epidural Anesthesia

Epidural Anesthesia

Epidural anesthesia is the most widely used form of pain relief when pregnant women are in labor. Over 50% of women request epidural anesthesia when they are giving birth naturally.

A local anesthetic is injected into the lower spine to prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. Narcotics are usually used in conjunction with the local anesthetic for maximum pain relief.

Celiac Plexus Block

Celiac Plexus Block

There is a bundle of nerves around the aorta called the celiac plexus. The aorta is one of the body's main arteries which travels into the abdominal area. Celiac plexus nerve blocks are used to alleviate abdominal pain associated with diseases such as pancreatitis and cancer.

If long-lasting abdominal pain relief is needed, the physician may decide to inject phenol or alcohol during a celiac plexus block. Each patient is different and some only need a couple of injections while others will need more. The treatment is an effective way to relieve abdominal pain and the results can last for years.

Occipital Nerve Block

Occipital Nerve Block

If a patient is reporting severe migraine or tension headaches, an occipital nerve block is carried out to alleviate the pain. The headaches are caused by damage or inflammation to the occipital nerve. An injection containing steroids and anesthetic is used to carry out an occipital nerve block.

The medication used will start to work after a period of 3 to 5 days and pain will subside. Each patient responds to treatment differently and the pain relief lasts from a few days to a few months. When the pain begins to return, another occipital nerve block will be performed.

Lumbar Sympathetic Block

lumbar sympathetic block

The sympathetic nerves run down both sides of the spine and they regulate blood flow to the legs. The nerves carry pain signals to the brain and a lumbar sympathetic block is used to ease leg pain. A local anesthetic is injected into the nerves to inhibit the pain signals.

Furthermore, the anesthetic used for the lumbar sympathetic block is effective for reducing swelling around the nerve. Following the procedure mobility may be improved and quality of life is better. Repeat injections are usually needed to maintain effective pain relief in the legs.

Intercostal Nerve Block

Intercostal Nerve Block

To alleviate pain around the ribs and chest an intercostal nerve block can be performed. This is a common procedure for treating the pain associated with the herpes zoster infection (shingles). A local anesthetic and steroid is injected under the rib where the pain is.

An intercostal nerve block is sometimes used following an incision for chest surgery. The pain relief provided by an intercostal nerve block may last for several months, depending on the level of pain. The procedure can be repeated at regular intervals to provide ongoing pain relief.

Selective Nerve Root Block

selective nerve root block

Selective nerve root block is used to treat neck, lower back, and leg pain by numbing the nerve when it’s compressed. The injection contains an anesthetic, a steroid, and an anti-inflammatory drug to help with nerve compression. The injection is an effective way to relieve pain and to diagnose nerve damage.

Selective nerve root block is also used to treat pain associated with lateral disc herniation. To get the best results, and to manage pain, the injection will be given 3 times per year.

Hypogastric Plexus Block

hypogastric plexus block

Hypogastric plexus block treatment is used when patients are suffering pain in the pelvic region. Pain in and around the pelvis is usually associated with the pelvic organs such as the bladder, colon, and prostate. The bundle of hypogastric plexus nerves are blocked to prevent the pain signals getting to the brain.

The injection used to carry out hypogastric plexus block treatment contains anesthetic and steroids. In some cases alcohol and phenol will be used to destroy the nerves. The treatment may be effective for several months and can be repeated when required.

Final Thoughts

Following the information about nerve block treatments, we can see that it’s an effective way to diagnose nerve damage. For many, it’s a better option than surgery when treating pain, and it doesn’t require a stay in hospital. The treatment works for large numbers of people and their quality of life will improve.

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