What is a Sympathetic Nerve Block?
Sympathetic nerves branch off from your spine. If there is a problem with this system you may experience pain, burning or tingling in the part of your body that these nerves go to. If these nerves are causing your problem, a sympathetic nerve block may relieve your symptoms for a while. Often it takes several treatments to provide relief for an extended period of time. Generally, many patients experiencing pain as described have a marked reduction or elimination of their pain following one or more of these injections. Some patients who have a reduction, but not elimination of their pain may benefit from further injections after about 3 to 14 days. Some patients, however, may not receive any benefit from this injection.
There are several regions of the body that sympathetic nerve blocks are useful in treatment, such as:
- Head, neck and arms: the “Stellate Ganglion” in the neck is blocked
- Legs: the “Lumbar Ganglions” in the mid-back are blocked
- Tailbone, groin, or lower pelvis, the “Impar Ganglion” near the coccyx is blocked
What can you expect during the procedure?
Fluoroscopy (X-Ray) and contrast dye, if you are not allergic to it, will be used to help guide the needle(s) to the correct position. The procedure is performed under aseptic (sterile) conditions. If you would like a sedative to help you relax for the procedure, an intravenous needle will be placed by the nurses at the Pain Clinic. You can’t be totally “asleep” for this procedure. If you are receiving sedation, your vital signs will be watched with several monitors for your safety.
What can you expect after the procedure?
You will be discharged 30-60 minutes after the procedure. If sedated during your procedure, you will need someone to drive you home, as you may be drowsy from the medications. Further, you are restricted from driving any automobile or motorized/mechanized vehicle that day or from operating heavy machinery/equipment of any type that day. Even if you have not had sedation, you should not lift anything heavier than 5 pounds or do any type of strenuous work that day.
Tenderness at the injection site is very common and may persist for up to (1) week. This can often be relieved with medications such as Advil or Tylenol, and/or by applying heat or ice to the area. A sympathetic injection in the neck area (stellate block) may cause the eyelid on that side of your face to droop a little. Your voice may be hoarse. When the local numbing medicine wears off after a few hours, these symptoms will go away. A sympathetic injection in the back area (lumbar sympathetic block) may cause one of your legs or feet to become warmer than the other side. There will be a small Band-Aid over the injection site which should be removed the following morning. At that point in time, you will be able to shower.