A nerve block is a special technique that stops a nerve from sending pain signals to the spinal cord and ultimately, the brain. It is often an injection of medicine that blocks pain from specific nerves.
How nerve blocks are used
From anesthesiologists to neurologists and dentists, a variety of health care professionals use nerve blocks. The most well-known is the epidural, used during childbirth. They can also be used for a large number of surgical procedures, including joint replacements, abdominal surgeries and foot and hand surgeries.
Since nerve blocks stop the transmission of all pain signals, they significantly decrease pain after surgical procedures and can eliminate the use of narcotics. Patients are known to have faster recoveries, as well.
Outside of the operating room, they are being used more often for treatment of chronic pain.
“Similar to the procedures used for acute pain and for operating room-based surgeries, many of these procedures can be used for chronic pain, especially for patients who suffer from complex regional pain syndrome, chronic abdominal pain, atypical facial pain and occipital neuralgia, just to name a few” said Dr. Michael Roegner, Marshfield Clinic Health System anesthesiologist and pain management physician.
Advancements in technology
Nerve blocks have gained significant traction in the field of medicine over the last 15-20 years. They’re being used in more procedures than ever before.
“Many physicians are now trained and many residents are coming through their residencies heavily trained on them, given the massive potential they have,” Dr. Roegner said. “Just in the last few years, I myself have learned several different new types of nerve blocks.”
Not only are they being used in more procedures, the way nerve blocks deliver medicine is changing. Some physicians can now insert a small catheter around a targeted nerve to slowly infuse local anesthetic over a number of days. This provides significant and long-lasting pain relief, especially after a painful surgery.
Imaging technology has also helped with progress. Not only does the treatment require needles to deliver medicine, they need an ultrasound, X-ray or CT scan to guide the needle.
“Modern ultrasound machines are far more advanced than they used to be and are a very useful tool as we seek to help patients for both acute and chronic pain,” Dr. Roegner said.
If you’re interested in learning more, talk to your doctor about the potential of nerve blocks.