A medial branch block is a procedure that blocks pain signals from a facet joint. Facet joints connect the bones in the spine, letting the neck and back bend and twist. However, these areas can cause significant joint pain if damaged by injury, arthritis or another cause.
Each facet joint connects to medial branch nerves that send pain signals to the brain from a damaged facet joint. A medial branch block is a procedure where a doctor blocks these nerves. This is often done by injecting a numbing medication directly into the nerves.
How Does a Medial Branch Block Work?
A medial branch nerve block prevents the affected nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. When the nerves from a painful facet joint are blocked, the patient will experience pain relief.
The doctor sometimes blocks medial branch nerves by injecting an anesthetic near the facet joint to numb the nerves. After applying a local anesthetic to reduce injection-related pain, the doctor will insert a needle into the medial branch nerves to inject the numbing medicine. The doctor may use X-ray guidance to ensure correct needle placement. Numbing the painful nerves helps alleviate the patient’s pain.
These injections usually offer only short-term relief and are often used to determine whether a more permanent nerve blocking procedure is appropriate. If medial branch nerves are the source of pain, the doctor may recommend radiofrequency ablation.
Radiofrequency ablation uses heat produced by a radio wave electrical current to destroy nerve fibers. As with numbing, destroying the nerves prevents them from sending pain signals to the brain, but the effects last longer. During radiofrequency ablation, the doctor inserts small needles into the nerves. These needles deliver the current and heat to destroy the nerve fibers.