Diagnostic nerve blocks numb specific nerves or groups of nerves suspected of causing pain. By injecting an anesthetic into the area of pain, doctors can then diagnose whether this area is indeed the source of pain, according to the patient’s assessment of how successful the anesthetic is in relieving pain. If a patient reports little or no pain relief following the anesthetic injection, the doctor concludes that pain originates from another area of the body.
Benefits of a Diagnostic Nerve Block for Locating the Origin of Pain
Chronic pain can significantly overlap or share similarities with pain symptoms caused by different pain generators. For example, lumbar (low) back pain could potentially originate from multiple sources, like your sacroiliac joint, facet joints, paraspinal muscles or intervertebral discs. Treatment for each of these pain conditions differ fundamentally from one another. This makes identifying the unique pain generator vital to achieving long-term pain relief. Once identified, pain generators are nullified using nerve blocks and radiofrequency ablation.
Applications of radiofrequency signals following a successful diagnostic nerve block produce sustained, long-term pain relief without relying on medications or surgery. A radiofrequency signal stops pain signals from being transmitted to the brain. Patients report the pain relief experienced by radiofrequency ablation is the same as pain relief provided by a diagnostic nerve block but lasts much longer.
What to Expect During a Diagnostic Nerve Block Procedure
Techniques for completing diagnostic nerve blocks depend on nerves targeted by your physician. If your doctor suspects superficial nerve pain (nerves outside your spine), they may feel or palpate the area to identify the location of the pain generator. For non-superficial nerves around or in your spine, video x-ray or fluoroscopy may be used to locate the pain generator. In some cases, peripheral nerve stimulators can help locate the problem nerve. By placing a tiny needle near a particular nerve and passing safe amounts of electrical current through the needle, your doctor can reproduce your pain symptoms to expedite locating the painful nerve.
Sedation is not necessary during a diagnostic nerve block procedure. Patients must be able to provide information about changes to pain symptoms during the nerve block. In addition, diagnostic nerve blocks are well-tolerated by adults of all ages.
Diagnostic Nerve Blocks and the Medial Branch Nerves
Medial branch nerves supply tactile/sensory innervation to your spine’s facet joints from the skull’s base to the sacrum. When facet joints in the back or neck cause pain due to wear and tear, arthritis or injury, the medial branch nerves send pain information from the source of the pain to your brain. Patients with back and/or neck pain who do not respond to medication, physical therapy, cortisone injections or other short-term pain relief treatments should have a diagnostic nerve block performed targeting the medial branch nerves. When the medial branch nerves are found to be pain generators, a radiofrequency ablation procedure may be recommended to target and destroy sensory nerve supplies to facet joints causing pain.
Schedule an appointment at the Southern Pain Clinic today to learn more about the effectiveness of diagnostic nerve blocks and radiofrequency for long-term pain relief.