Medial Branch Nerve Blocks As a Treatment for Back or Neck Pain

Medial Branch Nerve Blocks As a Treatment for Back or Neck Pain

Treating back, shoulder, and neck pain can be a tricky proposition. Thanks to the spinal column’s design, it can be hard to pinpoint the actual source of pain during a patient’s initial visit. Where a GP might not know where to look, a pain medicine doctor who specializes in back and neck issues probably will. That doctor might recommend a medial branch nerve block to figure out what is going on.

Medial branch nerve blocks are an injection therapy that can be used to either diagnose or treat back, shoulder, and neck pain. Occasionally, it is utilized to diagnose pain in other parts of the body. Depending on the type of pain a doctor thinks he is looking at, a medial branch nerve block might be recommended as a primary treatment alongside physical therapy and other options.

More About Medial Branch Nerves

Medial branch nerves are not major nerves running throughout the body. Rather, they are small nerve endings found in the back and neck. They protrude from the facet joints in the spine, carrying signals from those joints to the brain. When they carry pain signals, the result is obvious.

Each facet joint in the back has two medial nerves. These nerves serve no other purpose but carrying signals from the joints to the brain. They have no impact on any other part of the spine or surrounding muscle tissue. Therefore, their function can safely be blocked without impacting other parts of the body.

Nerve Blocks As a Diagnostic Tool

At Lone Star Pain Medicine in Texas, medial branch nerve blocks are usually utilized as a diagnostic tool. A patient may come in complaining of pain in the back, neck, or shoulders. After a thorough examination, is doctor may suspect a root cause in one of the patient’s facet joints. Ordering a medial branch nerve block is one of the easiest ways to confirm or refute the diagnosis.

If the block works to temporarily relieve the patient’s pain, it is safe for the doctor to conclude his diagnosis is correct. He and the patient can then talk about a course of treatment. If the nerve block doesn’t offer any pain relief, the doctor’s diagnosis is incorrect. It’s back to the drawing board.

Nerve Blocks As a Primary Treatment

Medial branch nerve blocks can be utilized as a primary treatment if a pain medicine doctor deems it appropriate. But there is a caveat here: nerve blocks work to relieve pain through a combination of local anesthetic and steroid medications.

The local anesthetic numbs the targeted nerves so that they do not send pain signals to the brain. Meanwhile, the steroid medications reduce inflammation in the affected area. Combining the two can offer significant pain relief. However, that pain relief will only be temporary.

Utilizing medial branch nerve blocks as a primary treatment almost always includes secondary treatments. Doctors can recommend anything from physical therapy to radiofrequency neurotomy as a complement to nerve blocks.

An Outpatient Procedure

Patients considering medial branch nerve blocks can take comfort in the fact that the procedure is an outpatient procedure generally performed right in the pain medicine doctor’s office. It is also a fairly quick procedure as well. It can be administered in under an hour.

The procedure is considered generally safe and minimally invasive. Patients capable of tolerating needles should find nerve block injections little more than a bit uncomfortable. Most patients return to normal activities that same day. Risks are limited mainly to infection at the site of the injection. Antibiotics will take care of infection for the most part.

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