A sympathetic block is an effective method for controlling chronic pain. Sometimes called a sympathetic nerve block, the pain management procedure is an injection of medications (for example, steroids) to relieve chronic pain temporarily. The medication is injected around the sympathetic nerve roots located along the spine.
The procedure targets the sympathetic nervous system, a series of nerves that spread out from the spine to help control several involuntary body functions such as blood flow, digestion, and sweating. Sometimes, a sympathetic nerve block is performed to help determine if there is damage to the sympathetic nerve chain.
The sympathetic nerves are a part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls bodily functions that you do not think about or have direct control over, like temperature, heart rate, digestion, and blood pressure. The nerves run on the front surface of the spinal column (not in the spinal canal).
Pain often occurs when the sympathetic nervous system is altered due to an injury or illness, including complex regional pain syndrome (also called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy).
What Is a Sympathetic Block?
A sympathetic nerve block is a type of injection to help ease the pain. The injection is used for various conditions that cause pain in the legs and feet. Nerves that communicate pain from this part of the body pass through the lumbar sympathetic nerves on their way to the brain.
During a lumbar sympathetic nerve block, a steroid medication and a local anesthetic are injected into the area around the sympathetic nerves to help temporarily reduce or eliminate pain in the lower back or legs (sciatica).
In some patients, the amount of pain relief may decrease over time. A sympathetic block may provide weeks or months of pain relief for others. Additional injections may be repeated as needed if the pain continues to improve after each injection.
For many that have limited mobility due to pain, sympathetic nerve block injections may help reduce the pain and restore mobility. Sympathetic block injections provide a localized pain treatment without an invasive surgical procedure and may be used to diagnose pain.
Diagnostic nerve blocks help determine sources of pain.
Prognostic nerve blocks can help predict the outcomes of certain treatments.
Preemptive nerve blocks can help prevent pain resulting from a procedure.
In some cases, nerve blocks can help a patient avoid surgery.
Conditions Treated with Sympathetic Blocks
The injection helps treat certain types of pain in the lower legs, ankles, or feet. Often, the procedure works by blocking the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. The injection can also work by blocking the nerves that control some of the body’s involuntary functions, like blood vessel size.
A lumbar sympathetic block may be beneficial for people suffering from lower back or leg pain, especially complex regional pain syndrome, which does not respond well to other treatments. Sympathetic nerve block injections are helpful in treating:
Vascular pain. Pain resulting from a lack of blood flow to tissues or an organ.
Visceral pain. Pain in the organs and structures of the thorax or the body’s trunk.
Neuropathic pain. Pain that is characterized by a burning or shooting sensation.
A sympathetic block may be beneficial when other pain management procedures have failed. Some conditions for which a sympathetic nerve block might be used include:
Sympathetic blocks are often performed for neuropathic pain but are not appropriate for all pain problems.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and treats patients with chronic pain with numerous therapies, including sympathetic nerve blocks. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle while minimizing the need for opiates.