Sympathetic Nerve Block

What is it?

Sympathetic Nerve Block

A sympathetic nerve block can be helpful in treating a painful extremity. It can change how the nerves and blood vessels in that extremity respond to injury and disease.


When a nerve is excited or injured, its endings release chemicals. These chemicals cause an opening of the blood vessels. This results in inflammation which then leads to more stimulation of the sensory nerve fibers. Over time, an increased sensitivity to pain occurs. Arms, wrists, hands, fingers, legs, ankles and feet are the regions of the body rich in nerve endings and are most commonly affected. If you experience tingling, swelling, numbness, discoloration, or pain in your extremities this treatment may be right for you.

The sympathetic nervous system can also become overactive due to numerous diseases:

  • Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
  • Chronic heart failure, ischemic heart disease, and hypertension.
  • Ischemic heart disease.
  • Hypertension.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Type II diabetes.
  • Metabolic syndrome and obesity.

How does it reduce pain?

Your sympathetic nerves come together outside your spine area in thick networks of nerves called ganglions. If you have pain in the upper part of your body, you may get pain relief from blocking the stellate ganglion in your neck area. If you have pain in the lower part of your body, a ganglion near the lower spine may be targeted with a lumbar sympathetic block. This temporarily ‘turns off’ the nerves and reduces pain by attempting to reset them to normal.

After the first successful administration of the nerve block, subsequent blocks can be performed if the pain continues to keep decreasing.

Lumbar Sympathetic Block

This procedure is an injection that numbs branches of nerves in your lower back. It helps doctors find and treat a number of problems linked to these nerves. Usually, a series of injections is needed to treat a problem.

What to expect afterwards?

Side effects after a sympathetic block may include weakness, temporary soreness, or a feeling of warmth. Some patients may experience eyelid droop if they had an injection in the neck, some temporary changes in your voice, or difficulty swallowing. Sympathetic blocks don't work for every patient. Also, the pain relief may lessen over time. For others, a sympathetic block may provide weeks, months or complete pain relief.

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