A nerve block works by preventing pain signals from reaching the brain. There are permanent and temporary options. Both are generally safe procedures.

Nerve blocks are an effective way to prevent, reduce, or manage pain. They disrupt pain signaling around the body. This can produce either short- or long-term pain relief.

Nerve blocks are useful in a variety of settings. For example, they can help reduce temporary pain from an operation or long-term pain from a chronic health condition. A common example of a nerve block is an epidural. Many women will receive an epidural during or following childbirth as a means of reducing the pain.

Keep reading to learn more about how nerve blocks work, the different types, and what risks they might have.

How does it work?

Nerve blocks reduce pain by blocking signals between nerve cells and the brain.

A doctor will inject a local anesthetic, an anti-inflammatory medication, or both around a specific nerve or group of nerve endings. Other procedures that a doctor may perform for chronic pain might involve cutting or destroying the nerve cell.

Both approaches stop pain signals from traveling through the nerve toward the brain. By turning off the pain signal, the area will instead feel numb or tingly.

When is it useful?

Nerve blocks are an effective and immediate way of preventing pain. They are useful for a range of situations, including both short- and long-term pain management.

Nerve blocks have some advantages over other ways of treating pain. For example, opioid medications are highly addictive. Because nerve blocks do not involve opioids, they do not lead to dependency.

Chronic pain

Nerve blocks can help manage the symptoms of chronic pain and improve a persons quality of life.

People with other painful chronic conditions, such as severe arthritis or chronic back pain, may also benefit from nerve blocks. Sometimes, people with cancer may receive nerve blocks to help with the pain.

Temporary pain

Temporary nerve blocks can help with pain either during or following a surgical procedure. Women may receive a temporary nerve block to help with labor and delivery pains during childbirth.

Diagnosis

In some cases, doctors may use a nerve block to diagnose a person. For example, they may block a specific nerve to determine whether it is still working correctly.

Types of nerve block

There is a range of nerve blocks available. The doctor will consider all health factors before deciding which nerve block is most suitable for the condition they are treating. Some nerve blocks are temporary, and others are permanent. This will depend on the type of medication the nerve block uses.

The two main types of nerve blocks are:

Nonsurgical nerve blocks

Nonsurgical nerve blocks are temporary nerve blocks. Typically, doctors use these for providing short-term pain relief or as an anesthetic during surgery. Different types include:

  • Epidural: This involves injecting steroid or analgesic medications around the nerve cells outside the spinal cord. Doctors often use them to provide pain relief during childbirth and as an anesthetic for some surgeries
  • Spinal anesthesia or analgesia: A doctor will administer an injection into the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord
  • Peripheral nerve blockade: This involves an injection that numbs a specific nerve that is causing pain
  • Sympathetic blockade: A doctor will use a drug to block the pain from a whole area of the nervous system by temporarily numbing the nerve.

Surgical nerve blocks

Surgical nerve blocks are permanent. They work by damaging or destroying specific nerve cells. Doctors may use them to treat chronic debilitating pain syndromes. Different types include:

  • Sympathetic blockade: A doctor will use a drug to block the pain from a whole area of the nervous system by permanently destroying the nerve.
  • Neurectomy: This is when the doctor will remove part or all of a peripheral nerve to block a specific pathway for pain signaling.
  • Rhizotomy: This procedure destroys the root of a nerve coming from the spine.

Risks

Nerve blocks are generally safe. There are some risks with the procedure, but they are rare.

There can be bleeding and soreness around the area of injection. There is also a risk of infection.

When two nerves are close together, a doctor might find it challenging to identify the correct nerve. It is also possible that medicine enters the bloodstream.

In very rare cases, temporary nerve blocks can permanently damage a nerve. The procedure may also damage the surrounding nerves.

It is important to note that these risks are very rare, and generally, nerve blockers are safe and effective.

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