A nerve block is an injection of medication into a specific area of the nerve or nerves. Depending on the type of medication used, a nerve block either reduces inflammation or interferes with the ability of nerves to send pain signals to the central nervous system. Nerve blocks can last anywhere from a few hours to a few months. Although used less frequently, surgical nerve blocks permanently destroy or remove nerves and typically provide long-lasting pain relief.
At Neurosurgery One, we take an evidence-based approach to pain management and always exhaust nonsurgical options before recommending surgery. In addition to conservative therapies such as over-the-counter pain medication, physical therapy, and an anti-inflammatory diet, we may explore nerve blocks if we want to be very specific with diagnosing the exact location of the pain, for instance if you are experiencing radiculopathy at the L4 nerve or sciatica in one specific nerve root. Spinal injections like facet joint injections and sacroiliac joint injections are considered types of nerve blocks as well.
There are three types of nonsurgical nerve blocks: epidural, peripheral, and spinal anesthesia. Your spine or pain management physician will determine which nerve block is best for you based on the location of your pain.
FAQs About Nerve Blocks
Continue reading below to learn more about nerve blocks, or click on one of these links to go directly to the information you are interested in:
Conditions We Treat
How does a nerve block work?
Nerve blocks are used to give the damaged nerve time to heal. Although nerve blocks typically only provide temporary pain relief, they can be helpful in giving your body time to heal or help your spine or pain management physician pinpoint the underlying issue.
Nerve blocks can be administered in an outpatient setting. You will be positioned on your back or side for the procedure. To administer a nerve block, your spine and pain management physician may use CT scan, ultrasound, or fluoroscopy to pinpoint the exact location to administer the nerve block. Then, your physician will use a needle to administer the medication. Local anesthetic and steroids are the most common medications used in nerve blocks.
What are types of nerve blocks?
Nerve blocks can be classified by the type of the block or the location of where the nerve block is administered. Nerve blocks can also be one-time or continuous. For continuous nerve blocks, a small catheter is inserted next to the nerves and medication is administered regularly through the catheter.
There are three types of nerve blocks:
- Epidural: utilizes the area outside of the spinal cord to administer medicine for pain relief of the abdomen and lower extremities
- Peripheral: the nerve causing pain is directly targeted with medicine
- Spinal anesthesia: an anesthetic medication is administered directly into the spinal fluid
Nerve blocks can also be classified as spinal nerve blocks, like facet joint injections and sacroiliac joint injections, or non-spinal nerve blocks like occipital nerve blocks for neck pain.
Am I a candidate for a nerve block?
If you have chronic neck, spine, or back pain and conservative treatments haven’t been successful, you may be a candidate for a nerve block. Patients who have pain from a specific nerve or nerve root may benefit from nerve blocks. Women often use epidurals, the most common type of nerve block, during labor and delivery. Nerve blocks are also used for patients after surgery.
What are the benefits and risks of nerve blocks?
Nerve blocks offer the advantage of almost immediate pain relief. This allows the inflamed area to heal while providing you with pain relief. This also allows for physical therapy and other activities that may help improve the underlying issue. Nerve blocks are minimally invasive and can be given in an outpatient setting.
The downside to nerve blocks is that many only provide temporary relief. While nerve blocks give the damaged nerve time to heal, they may not always solve the underlying issue causing the pain. In some cases, nerve blocks may need to be administered several times to be effective.
Nerve blocks have low risk of infection and bleeding. You may experience some soreness or swelling at the site.
What should I consider before choosing a nerve block for my back or neck pain?
Nerve blocks are only effective if your pain is caused by a particular nerve or bundle of nerves that can be easily accessed. Like with any minimally invasive procedure, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of nerve blocks. You should also be sure that you fully understand the potential pain relief nerve blocks may or may not provide for your condition. It is also important to ask your spine or pain management physician about follow up injections or procedures that may be necessary to achieve the pain relief you desire.
What is recovery like following a nerve block?
You may feel a slight pain or numbness after the procedure and should have someone drive you home. Your spine or pain management physician may have you ice the location or take over-the-counter pain medications. You should take it easy the day of your procedure but can resume normal activities the next day.