Nerve Blocks

Nerve blocks may provide temporary relief for individuals suffering from acute or chronic nerve pain due to a variety of conditions, helping them return to their regular activities. The procedure, which involves injecting an anesthetic or anti-inflammatory near targeted nerves, requires minimal recovery and often delivers results immediately, making it a good treatment choice for many people. Learn more about how this common procedure works, what conditions it may be effective in treating and what you can expect after a nerve block treatment.

A nerve block is a procedure intended to reduce or eliminate pain that originates from a specific nerve or nerves. It typically involves the injection of an anesthetic or anti-inflammatory medication near the targeted nerves to disrupt the pain signal. In some cases, the nerve block may be done by severing or burning the targeted nerve.

Sometimes referred to as a neural blockade, a nerve block is often used to manage nerve-related pain that doesn’t respond to medications or other treatments, or it may be performed as a diagnostic tool to help a physician pinpoint the origin of undiagnosed pain and determine the best treatment plan. A nerve block may also be used to minimize irritation to damaged nerves so they can heal more quickly.

Nerve blocks fall into two main categories: surgical and nonsurgical nerve blocks.

Surgical Nerve Blocks

During a surgical nerve block, targeted nerves are cut using a surgical tool, burned using chemicals or an electrical current or otherwise destroyed so they can’t send out impulses to the central nervous system (CNS), causing pain. Surgical nerve blocks are considered minimally invasive and are often used to treat debilitating chronic nerve pain conditions such as chronic regional pain syndrome. The effects of a surgical nerve block may last for several years and may even be permanent.

The following procedures fall under the category of surgical nerve blocks:

  • Neurectomy: During this type of nerve block, damaged peripheral nerves are deliberately destroyed to reduce or prevent pain.
  • Rhizotomy: During a rhizotomy, nerves that cause pain are burned or severed to disrupt the pain signal.
  • Sympathetic blockade: In a sympathetic blockade, the patient receives a drug that disrupts the pain reaction of the sympathetic nervous system in a specific area of the body.

Nonsurgical Nerve Blocks

During a nonsurgical nerve block, medication is injected around a specific nerve or nerves, temporarily disrupting pain signaling to the CNS. The effects of a nonsurgical nerve block typically last for up to one to two weeks, and a series of treatments may be required to create long-term results.

The following procedures are considered nonsurgical nerve blocks:

  • Peripheral nerve blockade: This common type of nerve block involves the injection of medication around a target nerve to disrupt the pain signal.
  • Epidural analgesia/anesthesia: During an epidural, medication is injected outside the spinal cord. This technique is often used to manage pain associated with labor and delivery.
  • Spinal analgesia/anesthesia: In this procedure, medication is typically injected directly into the fluid around the spinal cord.

Depending on the type of nerve block treatment, the procedure may be performed by a radiologist, a neurologist, an anesthesiologist or another pain management physician on an outpatient basis. Imaging guidance using CT, fluoroscopy or ultrasound is often used to accurately guide the needle to the targeted nerves.

How Does a Nerve Block Work?

During a nerve block procedure, the patient is positioned on a CT or fluoroscopic table in a way that gives the physician unencumbered access to the targeted injection site. Although certain surgical nerve blocks may involve general anesthesia, most nerve blocks are done using a local anesthetic.

To perform most common nerve blocks, the physician inserts a small needle through the skin. The medication, which may be an anti-inflammatory or an anesthetic, is administered with a syringe similar to those used for vaccinations. Treatments that involve larger body areas may require multiple injections.

To confirm the accuracy of the needle placement and ensure maximum benefit to the patient, a practitioner may use imaging guidance along with a small amount of contrast material. Low-level electrical stimulation may also be used to locate the nerves causing the pain.

The effects of a nerve block are often immediate and usually diminish in one to two weeks as the body absorbs the medication. Patients may require several rounds of treatment before experiencing extended relief. Because some surgical nerve blocks involve cutting or burning a nerve to destroy it completely, patients undergoing these procedures may experience long-term or permanent relief from pain.

Are you a good candidate for Nerve Blocks?

  • Positive

    You suffer from acute or chronic pain.

  • Positive

    You experience pain from arthritis, sciatica, cancer and other common pains that aren’t responding to traditional anti-inflammatory or analgesic medications.

  • Negative

    You have an allergy to local anesthetics.

  • Negative

    You have a history of coagulopathies, neuropathies, or systemic diseases or infections.

Frequently asked questions

How Do You Prepare for Nerve Blocks?

Nerve block treatments typically require minimal preparation. Prior to the procedure, patients may be asked to stop taking health supplements, OTC anti-inflammatories and certain prescription medications. On the day of the nerve block treatment, the patient must show no signs of illness or infection and should not be taking antibiotics.


How Long Do Nerve Blocks Take?

Most nerve block treatments take only minutes. Patients may be moved to a recovery room after the procedure, where they’ll rest for up to 30 minutes while the medication takes effect. During this time, nurses monitor for potential side effects or adverse reactions to the nerve block. Multiple treatments at physician-prescribed intervals may be required to achieve long-term pain relief.


What Are Nerve Blocks Used For?

Nerve blocks are used to prevent or manage both acute and chronic pain in various parts of the body, reduce inflammation and pinpoint the origin of undiagnosed pain. They’re often used in patients who have pain that isn’t responding to traditional anti-inflammatory or analgesic medications and may be helpful when treating the following conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Facial pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Herniated disks
  • Excessive sweating
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Cancer-related pain
  • Post-amputation phantom pain
  • Migraines and other types of headaches
  • Pain associated with labor and delivery
  • Trigeminal and occipital neuralgias
  • Chronic regional pain syndrome and other chronic pain disorders

What Are Potential Side Effects of Nerve Blocks?

Although nerve blocks are generally considered a low-risk treatment, side effects can still occur. The side effects a patient may experience depend largely on the type of nerve block performed but may include the following:

  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Bleeding at the injection site
  • Soreness at the injection site
  • Injection site infection
  • Medication spread to non-targeted nerves
  • Numbness or the sensation of pins and needles

Most side effects of nerve blocks are minor and disappear quickly.

The procedure does pose several additional risks, including the potential for hitting an untargeted nerve or accidentally delivering medication into the bloodstream, and individuals who have a bleeding disorder, take blood thinners or have prior neural problems in the targeted area may not be good candidates for treatment. 


What is Recovery after Treatment with Nerve Blocks Like?

Individuals undergoing a nerve block shouldn’t drive or operate heavy equipment for 24 hours following the procedure. However, because nerve block treatments are generally considered safe and minimally invasive, most patients may resume their normal routine the day after the procedure.

The attending physician may prescribe additional pain medication or physical therapy for individuals receiving nerve block treatments aimed at pain management.

For many individuals, nerve blocks are a safe, effective way to manage acute or post-surgical pain, and they can be a viable nerve pain mitigation option for individuals living with chronic conditions. At Northeast Spine and Sports Medicine, an experienced pain management team is available to help determine the best course of treatment so you can return to a pain-free life. Book an appointment online today. 


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