Back Pain Treatment: Nerve Blocks
Nerve blocks are one form of treatments that one may consider the second line of defense against back pain. The first line of defense would naturally be conservative treatments such as icing, oral medications, and physical therapy. The third line of defense, and is only seldom used when several other treatments have failed, is back surgery. Nerve blocks are one form of minimally invasive back surgery that is designed to block the transmission of pain from one of the spinal nerves to the pain. Nerve blocks may be used to provide temporary pain relief for chronic back pain.
Nerve blocks involve injecting an anesthetic onto or near nerves to interrupt the message of pain between designated areas of pain and your body. The affected nerves that are relaying the pain signals often have become constricted because herniated disc material are pressing into them, or because of some other changes to the architecture of the spine, narrowing the size of the intervertebral foramina where the exit. As a result of narrowed openings, or the pressing of soft tissue materials, these nerves may lose their normal functioning, which may result in the loss of sensation and muscle weakness. Moderate to severe compression may result in very distressing sharp pain and burning pain.
While ideally the goal of the patient and their physicians providing treatment is to treat and cure the source of the problem, it may not be feasible at certain points in the patient's treatment program. For this reason, nerve blocks may be necessary for some patients that are either unable to continue living a normal life or the continuation of their rehabilitative program without them.
After the selective nerve block anesthetic has been injected onto or near the affected nerves, the pain signal is unable to travel from that point to a higher level of the spinal cord. This block of the pain signal may last from between a few days to over a year. Each case produces different results.
Nerve blocks may provide months of nerve pain relief, as described above, but they may also provide information that is of diagnostic quality. As mentioned throughout this website, it is often very difficult to find the main pain generator, even when diagnostic tests, such as X-Ray and MRI provide a strong indication of where the cause of the pain is. Based in the results of an MRI, doctors may assume that the patient is experiencing pain due to the compression of a particular nerve, though he or she may not be able to confirm that diagnosis until the nerve is actually treated. If the patient experiences significant relief following the administration of a selective nerve block, then it is confirmation of the compression of that nerve being the cause of the back pain.
Nerve blocks are commonly used in all pain clinics throughout the United States. This treatment has a low incidence of side effects, though it is a minimally invasive surgery. Nerve blocks treatment may be administered at or nerve the nerve roots of the spine, or to the medial branch of the facet joints.
Medial Branch Nerve Blocks: Medial branch nerves are small nerves that emerge from the facet joints of the spine, and carry information to the spinal cord. Due to the inflammation of the facet joints, as may occur as a result of conditions such as facet joint osteoarthritis, these nerves may relay pain signals to the brain. Injections in and around the medial branch nerves may provide immediate pain relief if they are main pain generator. If the medial branch nerve block is successful in providing short-term pain relief, it may give doctors the conformation they need to determine that another surgical technique will have a strong likelihood of providing a successful long term treatment of the facet condition. Radiofrequency medial branch neurotomy may provide lasting pain relief if the nerve block treatment is successful.