Nerve Block Showdown: Diagnosis Or Pain Relief? Understanding The Procedure

Blocking Nerve Pain

Often referred to as the information highway, nerves are a complex network that sends electrical signals from the brain throughout the body. The signals transmitted are warning signs ranging from sensation to pain. If the nerves in a particular part of the body become pinched, impaired, or damaged, neuropathic or nerve pain can form. Nerve pain can range from mild tingling to severe shooting, stabbing, or burning sensations. Chronic nerve pain impacts as many as 17% of Americans and is common in the back and limbs. Thanks to an innovative procedure called a nerve block, doctors can diagnose and treat nerve-related pain more easily than ever before.

Making the diagnosis

A primary function of nerves is to signal to the brain when something is wrong in a particular part of the body. Most cases of pain originate from the spinal cord, leading to lower back pain, sciatica, and arm or leg pain. Some conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) or herniated discs also cause nerve pain. The pain is often chronic and can impact sleep, work, and everyday activities. Diagnosing nerve pain is vital in finding effective treatment. A doctor or pain specialist will use physical tests, x-rays, or a nerve conduction study (NCS) to identify nerve damage and determine the cause. With new information to work off, the doctor can then recommend treatment to improve symptoms.

Understanding nerve blocks

There are treatment options, like medication and physical therapy (PT), that can improve symptoms and help with pain management. However, conservative treatments may prove to be ineffective as the condition worsens. At this point, a doctor will likely recommend a nerve block for diagnostic or treatment purposes. A nerve block is an injection of medication, usually a steroid or anesthetic, designed to disrupt communication between the nerve endings and the brain. The medication reduces inflammation around the nerve endings, temporarily turning off the constant pain signaling. Nerve blocks are non-surgical procedures that are critical in the treatment of neuropathic pain.

What’s the diagnosis?

Sometimes, doctors use nerve blocks as diagnostic tools. There is usually an underlying reason for nerve pain, such as a herniated disc or inflamed pathway. Nerve blocks isolate and identify the reason for the chronic discomfort. From there, the doctor can devise a comprehensive plan to address the root cause of nerve pain. The nerve block is performed using an x-ray technique called fluoroscopy by a pain specialist or anesthesiologist. Fluoroscopy helps to guide the needle with medication near the painful area. The patient is awake during this process and can help the technician identify the affected nerves or provide feedback. When the needle is at the perfect spot, the anesthetic is released. If the patient notices pain relief, the medical team can deduce that a more severe issue is causing nerve pain.

Moonlighting as pain relief

Nerve blocks are excellent diagnostic tools and are mainly used for this purpose. However, many patients also benefit from a therapeutic sense. The medical team can combine the anesthetic used to diagnose pain with a potent corticosteroid. With the same fluoroscopic process, the cocktail of medicine is released near the painful area. After a short recovery period, patients notice dramatic pain relief and improved function. Diagnostic nerve blocks provide relief for a few hours or days. The goal is to find the underlying cause of the issue. Pain relief nerve blocks, on the other hand, can last for several weeks or months. Sustained relief makes therapeutic nerve blocks an excellent option for people hoping to avoid or delay surgery.

A powerful procedure

Nerve blocks are a great option in the pain management space. The non-invasive procedure takes about 45 minutes, and patients can typically leave after 1-2 short hours. Nerve blocks are a critical step in the long-term treatment of nerve pain. With information from the diagnostic procedure, the medical team can create a treatment plan to help manage the pain, including surgery. In the meantime, many patients enjoy the immediate pain relief the procedure offers. With the power to diagnose and provide long-term pain relief, nerve blocks are a fantastic solution for chronic pain.


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