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Medial Branch Block

A medial branch block is an injection that’s administered to the medial branches, nerve endings that are responsible for sensation in spinal joints. Medial branches in the back or neck may be damaged during a car wreck or some other type of trauma.

What does a medial branch block treat?

The purpose of a medial branch block is to precisely locate the problematic medial branches so that a stronger treatment modality, such as a facet joint injection, might be effectively administered. In short, medial branch blocks only diagnose facet joint pain – also known as “Facet Syndrome.”

Facet joints, which are located between the vertebra and spine, allow the spine to bend, twist, and flex. Needless to say, facet joint pain can be debilitating, which is one reason why many patients with severe pain choose to have a medial branch block. 

How is a medial branch block administered?

Medial branch blocks are administered in the outpatient setting. The entire process takes just a few minutes. When you arrive at Pain Management Associates at Hedley Orthopaedic Institute, you will be asked to change into a gown. If you have anxiety about the procedure, then you may be given medication to help prepare you for the injection.

Once you’re dressed, you’ll be asked to lie face down. The injection area will be cleaned, and a local anesthetic may be administered, numbing the skin and tissue around the facet joint. Next, a contrast dye is injected. This dye, which is traced via fluoroscope (a real-time x-ray machine), helps guide the physician in administering the injection.

With the fluoroscope as a guide, the physician places the needle and injects the medial branch nerves with an anesthetic. This temporarily blocks the nerves from transmitting painful sensations to the facet joints. If effective, you will experience temporary pain relief and your physician may have a better idea of the location of your pain – which can open the gate for more advanced treatments. (In some cases, a steroid may be administered along with the anesthetic for extended pain relief.)

How effective is a medial branch block?

The goal of a medial branch block is to interrupt the pain signal from the medial branch to the facet joint within four to six hours of injection. By most standards, patients would have to report at least an 80 percent improvement in pain within this timeframe in order for the nerve block to be considered successful. An 80 percent reduction in pain is a common requirement for insurance companies to approve additional treatments.

It is difficult to pinpoint the success rate of medial branch blocks, as physician experience, technique, and other factors are extremely important in this procedure.

What risks are associated with medial branch blocks?

There are a few risk factors associated with medial branch blocks that you should be aware of any time you have an injection procedure. These include bleeding, nerve injury, infection, and allergic reactions. You will be asked to remain at the practice for 15 to 20 minutes following your procedure so that your pain management specialist can monitor you for any allergic reaction or side effects.

Is a medial branch block right for my back/neck pain?

If back or neck pain is preventing you from being as mobile as you’d like, then a medial branch block might be a helpful diagnostic tool for you and your physician. Medial branch blocks are especially common amongst patients who have suffered some form of trauma, including whiplash. Only an in-person evaluation from a medical professional can determine if a medial branch block is right for you.

For more information about medial branch blocks – or to schedule an appointment – contact Pain Management Associates at Hedley Orthopaedic Institute today. Pain management services offered in Mesa, AZ.

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