Sympathetic nerve blocks are an effective method for controlling chronic pain. They work by targeting the sympathetic nervous system, a series of nerves that spread out from your spine to your body that control involuntary body functions such as blood flow, digestion, and sweating. These are the actions that occur in your body without you having to think about them. Sympathetic nerve blocks are used to diagnose or treat conditions that cause spasms in the blood vessels, complex regional pain syndromes, Raynaud’s syndrome, some types of chronic stomach pain, and even excessive sweating.
The sympathetic nerve block procedure targets the location of the pain. The sympathetic nervous system comes together in thick networks of nerves called ganglions outside the spine. Pain in the upper part of the body is often treated by blocking the stellate ganglion in the neck area. Pain in the lower part of body can be relieved by blocking a ganglion near the lower back, also known as the lumber region of the spine.
Sympathetic nerve blocks are performed by pain management specialists experienced in conducting nerve blocks. Local anesthesia is used to numb the area that will be injected. Fluoroscopy, a special x-ray, is often used to help guide the injection to the appropriate ganglion. Once located, the ganglion is injected with anesthesia or other medications to relieve pain and inflammation. This is how the unwanted nerve signals (the pain) is blocked.
Most nerve blocks are performed as an outpatient procedure in the comfort of a doctor’s office, meaning an overnight hospital stay is not often necessary. Most individuals can resume normal daily activities after a day or two of rest. Soreness is a common occurrence after sympathetic nerve blocks but it is usually mild and temporary. A feeling of warmth or some weakness often accompanies the soreness. Sympathetic nerve block are just a portion of the comprehensive treatment plan and is usually combined with physical therapy, talk therapy, and pain medicine. A series of blocks is usually required for optimal results.