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Sympathetic Blocks

The sympathetic nervous system, which runs through the spinal column from chest-level down to the lower back, helps control most of the body’s internal organs. Pain caused by the sympathetic nervous system may appear (non-localized) in the arm or a leg, from which it could spread out into the rest of the body. This condition is sometimes referred to as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

What is a sympathetic block?

A sympathetic block – specifically, a stellate ganglion block – can be used to diagnose pain in the sympathetic nervous system. This type of nerve block may provide some temporary pain relief, as well, if a steroid is also injected.

What does a sympathetic block treat?

A stellate ganglion block is used to diagnose and treat pain experienced in the head, neck, chest, or arm. Virtually any pain or discomfort originating in the sympathetic nervous system may be treated using this type of block, including (but not limited to):

  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
  • Herpes Zoster (Shingles)
  • Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) of the hands
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)

How is a stellate ganglion block performed?

A stellate ganglion block is a very quick procedure. The injection is performed in the neck, near the voice box. A local anesthetic will be administered to numb the skin and the deeper tissues. Also, you may be given IV sedation to help you relax. However, you will be awake throughout the entire process. Once you are sufficiently numb and sedated, you will receive the injection, which takes just a few minutes.

How effective are stellate ganglion blocks for pain relief?

Stellate ganglion blocks tend to be more effective after repeat injections. Patients usually undergo a series of injections – anywhere from two to ten, depending on the patient. The injection’s effectiveness usually depends on how far along your symptoms are. Generally, patients who begin injections early on in their disorder will have more relief than patients whose disease is more advanced.

What risks are associated with a sympathetic block?

There are several side effects that are associated with any kind of nerve block. These include soreness at the injection site, itching, rash, bleeding, increased energy, weight gain, elevated blood sugar, and – in very rare cases – death. Serious side effects resulting from sympathetic blocks are quite rare.

Is a sympathetic block right for my pain?

If your pain is caused by any of the conditions mentioned above – or if you have chronic pain in the arm – then a nerve block may be beneficial for you. However, only a physician or pain management specialist can determine if a sympathetic block is the best choice. If you are on blood-thinners or have advanced heart disease or diabetes, then a sympathetic nerve block may not be right for you.

For more information about sympathetic 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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