Sympathetic nerve blocks are commonly used to relieve chronic pain caused by nerve dysfunction in the arms or legs. The block is created by your doctor injecting medication, guided by advanced imaging, into a targeted area of the sympathetic nervous system.
You can think of your sympathetic nervous system as an “automatic” nervous system. It is responsible for a wide range of body functions – including blood pressure, heart rate and digestion – that require no conscious thought on your part.
Sympathetic blocks can be helpful for people with chronic pain (often in the arms or legs) caused by a wide range of conditions, including complex regional pain syndrome, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, phantom limb pain, peripheral neuropathy, abdominal pain and vascular conditions.
Are There Different Approaches to This Treatment?
The procedure, which uses a needle to inject dye and medication, can vary based upon the part of the body being treated. Procedures are commonly done in the neck, mid back and lower back.
This minimally invasive procedure is done in an outpatient setting and generally takes no longer than 20 minutes. You can expect to return home the same day and will likely be asked to take it easy for 24 hours.
Pain relief often occurs almost immediately after the injection, though it may return as the anesthetic wears off. Longer term relief usually does not happen for a few days – and repeat injections may be needed.