Sympathetic Nerve Blocks
A sympathetic nerve block is used to both diagnose damage and treat pain caused by the sympathetic nervous system, which runs from the spinal cord to various body parts including arms and legs.
A stellate block focuses on the sympathetic nerves in the upper spine, including those that run to the chest, arms, neck and head. A nerve block of the celiac plexus involves the sympathetic nerves in the middle of the spine that reach the abdomen. A lumbar sympathetic nerve block targets the sympathetic nerves of the lower spine that affect the legs and feet and a hypogastric plexus block targets sympathetic nerves to the pelvis.
What are Sympathetic Nerves?
The sympathetic nerves are responsible for essential bodily functions, including the regulation of blood vessels, heart rate, perspiration but are not normally involved in transmission of pain. When sympathetic nerves are damaged however, they can cause chronic pain states like complex regional pain syndrome, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, peripheral causalgia and sympathetically-maintained pain.
The main cell body of the sympathetic nerve exists in various “sympathetic ganglia” that are located in front of the spine in the neck, mid-back, low back and pelvis. These sympathetic ganglia are physically and functionally separate from the rest of the nervous system and it is possible to selectively block sympathetic nerves for diagnosis and therapy by blocking their associated sympathetic ganglion.
The stellate ganglion (head, arms and upper body), the lumbar sympathetic chain (legs), the celiac plexus (abdomen) and the hypogastric plexus (pelvis) supply the entire body’s sympathetic nervous system. When these nerves are irritated or injured, the blood supply to your arms and legs may be affected and can produce pain and sensory changes. Sympathetic nervous system dysfunction can also cause headache, neck pain, facial pain, abdominal pain and pelvic pain.
Sympathetic nerve blocks are effective at relieving and sometimes even curing certain chronic pain conditions. Complex regional pain syndrome is a difficult to treat condition and has been shown to have excellent improvement of clinical pain symptoms after one or a series of sympathetic blocks.
Pain that originates from the sympathetic nervous system is not easily treated by oral pain medications, so sympathetic blocks are an extremely effective and beneficial treatment option.