A sympathetic block targets the nerves in the sympathetic nervous system and is used as a treatment for chronic pain. These nerves live in your spinal cord and brain and regulate bodily functions such as digestion, sweating, and more notably, the "fight or flight" response. Since the sympathetic nerves are in the spine, this type of nerve block will be injected into the spine as well. The area of pain helps determine where in the spine the injection should go. For example, if a patient is suffering from complex regional pain syndrome and feels pain in their feet, a lumbar (lower spine) sympathetic block would likely be the most useful.
A sympathetic nerve block can also be used as a diagnostic tool. This means that if the sympathetic nerves are blocked during this procedure and the patient finds pain relief, then the physician will know that there is a problem within the sympathetic nervous system. Additionally, it can be used to treat pain. A sympathetic nerve block disrupts nerves from sending pain signals.
What to Expect
Before coming into TriState Pain for a sympathetic nerve block, patients may be asked to fast the night before the procedure and avoid blood-thinning medications. The day of the procedure, patients can expect to lie on their backs. After the area is injected with local anesthesia, the physician will begin the procedure. Using an X-ray device, they will guide a needle into the side of the spine. The physician may put a special dye into the needle and down into the spine to confirm that the needle is in the right position. Finally, the physician will inject a steroid medication into the needle. This soaks the nerves in medication and soothes them.
After the Procedure
After the procedure, patients are bandaged and asked to stay for a short while. This way, a physician can screen the patient and look for any signs of infection or allergic reaction. Patients may experience numbness or weakness in their limbs after the procedure. This is a normal occurrence and should subside soon. A sympathetic block is not a long-term solution to chronic pain, and patients can have the procedure repeated a few times throughout the year.