Sympathetic Blocks

Sympathetic nerves are actually an intricate network of nerves linked to our spinal cord. These nerves play a vital role in regulating essential involuntary functions within our body. Additionally, these nerves serve as conduits for transmitting pain signals to the brain. Sympathetic nerve blocks can strategically block these nerves by interrupting the transmission of pain messages to alleviate pain and restore comfort to the affected areas of your body.

A sympathetic nerve block is aimed at identifying the sympathetic nerve chain that may be causing pain. This block serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it serves as a diagnostic procedure, aiding in the identification of the exact source of pain. Secondly, the procedure offers therapeutic benefits by providing significant pain relief that can last for several weeks or months.

The treatment starts with administering anesthetic medication using a needle near the vertebral body in your back. The entire procedure typically lasts around 30 minutes, allowing for a swift and efficient experience.

Common Benefits of Sympathetic Blocks

  • The primary goal of these blocks is to “reset” the spinal cord and brain in order to effectively interrupt the pain cycle.
  • Zero or minimal requirement for systemic opioids (narcotics) and fewer chances of nausea.
  • Boosts mobility.
  • Minimizes pain and swelling.
  • Significant pain relief
  • Diagnostic support to determine the exact origin of pain. The doctor wants to know if the pain started in the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Faster recovery period. Most patients return to work the same day or the next day.

How a sympathetic block works

During a sympathetic nerve block procedure, a combination of local numbing anesthetics such as lidocaine or bupivacaine, along with a corticosteroid, is carefully injected into the exact location of the sympathetic nerve ganglia. The doctor will administer a local skin anesthetic to numb the area and ensure comfort. Subsequently, a separate needle is skillfully inserted near the ganglion for precise delivery of the medication.

The entire procedure is efficiently completed within a brief timeframe of less than 15 minutes. To ensure utmost accuracy, X-ray guidance is employed to ensure precise needle positioning during the procedure. Depending on your specific needs and preferences, your physician may recommend intravenous sedation to enhance your comfort during the process. Following the sympathetic nerve block, our attentive physicians will closely monitor and evaluate the effects of the block on your pain, allowing for tailored and informed treatment decisions moving forward.

What to expect after a sympathetic nerve block?

Following the procedure, you will be closely monitored in the recovery room for approximately 30 minutes. Most patients experience a significant reduction in pain within minutes. As a positive sign of progress, the affected extremity may also exhibit an increased temperature. It is important to note that the anesthetic medication responsible for pain relief typically wears off within a few hours, while the steroid medication takes a few days to take effect. Therefore, while immediate pain reduction is common, we advise patients to allow a full week for optimal results to fully manifest.

Best Spine Surgeons and Pain Specialists

Dr. William Schnapp

Board-certified Neurologist

Dr. Jon Gottlieb

Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

Dr. Doug Hollern

Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

Jorge Lerma, ARNP


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