A sympathetic ganglion block is a type of nerve block used in the treatment of severe or chronic pain. It involves the injection of an anesthetic medication that will numb the affected bundle of nerves, a cluster known as a ganglion. These nerves help the body react to stress and are responsible for the fight-or-flight response, a physiological reaction to situations perceived as being dangerous. If the nerves are damaged or compressed in any way, they can produce pain and other symptoms.
Part of the sympathetic nervous system, a stellate ganglion transmits signals to the upper body, including the face, neck, arms and chest area. A lumbar ganglion, on the other hand, sends signals to parts of the lower body, such as the leg or lower back. Damage to the ganglion nerves can result in pain in one or more of these regions. A sympathetic ganglion block involves the injection of a medication to numb the nerve and interrupt the pain signals it sends to the brain. It can be used in a diagnostic capacity to determine whether the source of the discomfort is due to damage to the ganglion nerves, as well as to effectively treat pain.
The Sympathetic Ganglion Block Procedure
Taking place in the doctor's office, a sympathetic ganglion block is generally completed within 30 minutes. A local anesthetic or mild sedative may be provided to patients to prevent any discomfort from the procedure. During a stellate ganglion block, an anesthetic medication, in combination with a corticosteroid, is injected into the nerve tissue of the neck. During a lumbar ganglion block, the medication is injected into a ganglion in the lower spine. This provides immediate relief from pain caused by a problem within the ganglion.
Following the procedure, patients are typically restricted from driving home. However, recovery time is minimal, and most patients can return to their normal activities the next day. Sympathetic ganglion nerve blocks used to treat chronic pain can provide significant relief to many patients for up to several months, and they can safely be repeated as necessary.
Risks of Sympathetic Ganglion Block
While sympathetic ganglion blocks are common, minimally invasive procedures that are considered to be safe for most patients, they do carry a slight risk of complications. These risks may include:
- Soreness at the injection site
Other side effects may include drooping of the eyelid and hoarseness, though these effects are usually temporary and last just a few hours.