What is Sympathetic Nerve Block?
A Sympathetic Nerve Block is a non-surgical procedure that targets a specific network of nerves in the sympathetic nervous system which lies outside the spine. The sympathetic nervous system is primarily responsible for involuntary responses of the body, or simple actions that the body cannot control such as heartbeat, blood flow, blood pressure, digestion and sweating. Sometimes, an injury near certain areas under involuntary control, even after injury has healed, may continue to send pain signals to the brain which can lead to chronic pain. When this occurs a sympathetic nerve block may be used to temporarily block pain sensations that are carried from the peripheral tissues to the spinal cord.
Sympathetic nerve blocks are used therapeutically and diagnostically. They can be used to block pain in the lumbar sympathetic blockade and the sympathetic or ganglion blockade. If the procedure is successful, they can reduce pain caused by inflammation or irritation and offer a long term solution for chronic pain or can confirm a nerve’s contribution to the pain.
What conditions are Sympathetic Nerve Blocks used for?
Sympathetic nerve blocks have been proven effective in treating certain conditions that would usually bring a chronic, recurrent or prolonged state of pain.
Some of these conditions include:
- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
- Pelvic Pain
- Phantom limb pain
- Central pain
- Excessive sweating
- Acute pancreatitis
- Pancreatic cancer and cancer pain from upper abdominal viscera
- Raynaud’s Syndrome
- Postherpetic neuralgia (in Herpes Zoster)
Who can be candidate for Sympathetic Block for Pain Management?
Patients, who fail to control pain using more conservative therapies such as taking oral medications or physical therapy, may significantly benefit from a sympathetic nerve block.
How are Sympathetic Nerve Block Performed?
Sympathetic nerve blocks use chemicals, often anesthetics (numbing agents) that are combined with steroids, and injected directly into the nerve under imaging guidance to guide placement of the needle and administer the drug. Most patients are sedated during the procedure while the neurologist evaluates the spread of the injection through X-rays. When a sufficient area is covered, the injections and procedure will be over. Following the procedure the needle is removed and a small band aid is applied. If the sympathetic nerve block successful pain relief may be felt almost immediately.
What are the Typical Risks of Sympathetic Nerve Blocks?
Patients might find soreness and pain at the injection site, which is temporary and can be relieved by applying ice or anti-inflammatories. In some cases an infection may occur at the injection site.
Sympathetic nerve blocks injections do poses a risk for bleeding. Patients who are taking blood thinning medications, such as aspirin and warfarin should notify their physician before the procedure.
If the nerve block was done at the upper part of the body, patients might experience difficulty in swallowing and voice changes, thus increasing the risk for aspiration. Exercise caution when sipping liquids and avoid biting large chunks of food.
Benefits of Sympathetic Nerve Block:
The most significant benefits of sympathetic nerve blocks are the rapid relief of chronic pain, which can be immediate and occur over the course of a few days. Other benefits include improvements in movement, which allow patients to regain the ability to resume normal daily activities, which increase the quality of life.
Meet Our Neurologists
At Neurological Associates of West Los Angeles our neurologists specialize in the treatment and diagnosis of conditions where a therapeutic Sympathetic Nerve Block can be used to treat or diagnosis chronic pain. Dr. Chang, Dr. Jordan, Dr. O’Connor, and Dr. Franc all diagnose and treat patients with conditions where therapeutic injections may be used to diagnose or treat a chronic pain condition . If you have a chronic pain condition like CRPS, Pelvic Pain, or nerve pain, as a result of shingles, make an appointment with one of our neurologists to determine if you are a candidate a therapeutic sympathetic nerve block calling 310-829-5968.