The sympathetic nerves are found along the front side of the spinal column and are part of your autonomic nervous system. This means that they control involuntary body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and even sweating. Sometimes this group of nerves cause pain and can lead to a condition known as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).
A sympathetic nerve block is an injection of a local anesthetic into the area in which these nerves coalesce, called the Sympathetic Ganglion. This blocks these nerves so that the sympathetic nervous system can no longer mediate the pain.
The first injection is done as a test. If you experiences pain relief, it confirms that those are the specific nerves causing the pain and more injections will be scheduled.
Preparing for the Procedure
You should not to eat or drink for at least six hours before your scheduled procedure. Small sips of water are allowed if you need to take medications.
Although the injection itself will only take a few minutes, you need to allow one to one and a half hours for your appointment. This time includes registration, physician consultation and examination, the procedure and recovery time. You cannot drive yourself home after the procedure; so make arrangements for a friend or family member to stay with you.
Note: If you take any type of blood-thinning or diabetic medication, it’s important that you notify us before your procedure and we will give you instructions about what you need to do.
What Happens During the Procedure?
You will be lying on your back or your stomach on a foam-cushioned form on an X-ray table. During and after the procedure, you will be monitored with EKG, a blood pressure cuff and blood oxygen-monitoring device. The skin will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution and then the injection is carried out.
What Happens After the Procedure?
Immediately following the procedure, you will go to a recovery room and will be in a reclined position. Prior to going home, your physician will ask you to make some movements to assess if you have had any change in your pain level. You may also be given a pain log to take with you to track your pain level and location for the first 24 hours following your injection.
You do not need to restrict your activities; however, you should use common sense and avoid activities that cause excessive strain or stress such as prolonged sitting, bending or lifting. You should not drive for at least eight hours.
What Are the Outcomes of the Procedure?
Sympathetic nerve blocks can be effective in relieving some chronic pain conditions, but not all. When they are performed as a series of injections over several weeks as opposed to a single injection, the outcomes are generally better. If you experience pain relief from a sympathetic nerve block, it also gives you a “window of opportunity” to more fully participate in other therapies that can contribute to your pain relief, such as physical therapy.
The earlier in your pain process you see a physician that routinely treats sympathetically mediated pain, the more likely you are to achieve success. When this type of pain goes on for more than six months untreated, then the chances of success fall dramatically.