Nerve Blocks  

What is a nerve block?

A nerve block is an injection of medication near the nerves. The medications used include local anesthetics (numbing medications) and usually an anti-inflammatory (steroid).

What is the purpose of the nerve block?

Nerve blocks may be used for the following reasons:

  • to control acute pain
  • to "desensitize" the sensory pathways of injured and/or painful nerves (decrease "pain memory" of nerves)
  • to decrease inflammation and "abnormal triggering signals" from injured nerves
  • to provide diagnostic information to help determine the source of your pain

How does the physician perform a nerve block?

The physician's assistant will need to position you first. Depending on where the nerve block is being done, you will either be sitting, lying on your side, your stomach, or your back. The skin over the nerve to be blocked will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution. The procedure does involve inserting a needle through the skin and deeper tissues. You may experience some burning and stinging at the site of the injection. After the physician is finished with the injection, the assistant will clean the skin off. A Band-Aid may or may not be used.

Nerve blocks are usually done in your room. Sometimes the physician will want to use fluoroscopy (x-ray), in which case you will be taken to the Procedure Room. If there is a possibility that you could be pregnant, be sure to inform the staff.

When can I eat and drink?

After the procedure is finished, you will be given something to drink. Crackers are available upon request. After you leave the Pain Medicine Clinic, you may have a meal. You will then want your driver to take you home so you can rest.

Will the nerve block help me? If so, for how long?

It depends on the type of medication used. It may last 30 to 60 minutes (if diagnostic), or it could last as long as three to six months. Usually the relief you receive will depend on other factors (ongoing oral medications, physical therapy, etc.) If a steroid is used, its benefit will begin in 3 to 7 days. Patients who come in early during their illness for treatment tend to respond better than those who have had their symptoms for several months.

How many nerve block injections will I need to have?

If you respond positively to the first injection, you may be scheduled for additional injections. Usually, a series of such injections in needed to treat the problem. Some patients may need only 2 to 4 injections, while other patients may need several injections.

What are the risks and side effects?

This procedure is safe. However, with any procedure there are risks, side effects, and the possibility of complications. The most common side effect is temporary pain at the site. Other risks/complications include bleeding, infections, nerve injury, bruising, shortness of breath and injection into blood vessels and surrounding organs. Fortunately, the serious side effects and complications are uncommon.

Who should not have a nerve block?

If you are allergic to any medications to be injected, if you are on blood thinner medications (e.g. Coumadin), or if you have an active infection, you should not have the nerve block. The physician may postpone the injection if you are currently on aspirin or an anti-inflammatory medication.