What to know about a nerve block

A nerve block functions by stopping the flow of pain signals into the brain. There are solutions which are permanent and temporary. Both are secure procedures usually.

Nerve blocks are an important tool for preventing, mitigating or managing pain. They block the signs of pain all over the body. It can provide pain relief, either in the short or the long term.

In a variety of settings the nerve blocks are useful. These can help to reduce temporary pain from an operation, for example, or long-term pain from a chronic health condition. An epidural is a common example of a nerve-block. Most women may seek an epidural as a means of reducing the pain during or after childbirth.

Continue reading to learn more about the workings of nerve blocks, the different types and the dangers these might have.

How does it work?

Nerve blocks may improve the quality of life for people with chronic pain.

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

A doctor can administer a local anesthetic, an anti-inflammatory drug, or both around a particular nerve or group of nerve endings. Many treatments that a physician may do for chronic pain may involve cutting or killing the nerve cell.

All methods prevent signs of pain from moving across the nerve toward the brain. By shutting off the pain signal the region will feel numb or tingly instead.

When is it useful?

Nerve blocks are an easy and timely way to prevent pain. They are useful for a range of situations, including pain management for both the short and the long term.

Nerve blocks have certain benefits over other types of pain treatment. Opioid medications for example are highly addictive. Since nerve blocks do not include opioids, they do not result in dependency.

Chronic pain

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

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

Temporary pain

Temporary blocks of the nerves can either help with pain during or after surgery. Women may be given a temporary nerve block during childbirth to assist with labor and delivery pains.

Diagnosis

In some cases, doctors may be diagnosing a person with a nerve block. For example, they can block a particular nerve to determine if it is still functioning properly.

Types of nerve block

An array of nerve blocks are available. When deciding which nerve block is most suitable for the condition they’re treating, the doctor must consider all health factors. Some blocks of the nerves are temporary, and some are permanent. That will depend on the type of drug used by the nerve block.

The two main types of nerve blocks are:

Nonsurgical nerve blocks

Nonsurgical blocks of nerves are temporary blocks of neurons. Doctors usually use them to provide short-term pain relief or during surgery as an anaesthetic. Miscellaneous 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

Blocks of the surgical nerve are permanent. They work by causing damage or destruction to specific nerve cells. Doctors can use these to treat syndromes of chronically debilitating pain. Miscellaneous 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

Generally speaking, the nerve blocks are healthy. The operation poses some risks but they are rare.

Bleeding and soreness may occur around injection area. There is a risk of infection, as well.

If two nerves are close together, a doctor can find identifying the correct nerve difficult. Medicine can enter the bloodstream, too.

In very rare cases a nerve can be permanently damaged by temporary blocks of the nerve. The procedure can also damage the nerves that surround it.

It’s important to note that these risks are very rare, and nerve blockers are safe and effective in general.

Alternatives

There are several alternatives to nerve blocks, depending on the condition.

Opioid medication

Another alternative to nerve blocks is opioid medicines for short-term pain relief. These are effective pain relievers that bind to opioid receptors around the body.

They may be highly effective in reducing pain, but need caution because they can lead to dependency.

Nonsteroidal or steroidal medication

Nonsteroidal or steroidal medication can decrease inflammation and pain in less serious cases. Take ibuprofen and prednisone for example.

Doctors sometimes use general anaesthesia during surgery. This will result in a lack of awareness and decrease pain.

Nitrous oxide

Another solution for women giving birth is the nitrous oxide. This may lower anxiety and help with the pain.

A doctor may offer a local injection of the anesthetic drug. That’s different from an epidural nerve block, but can help with the pain as well.

Exercise and physical therapy

Further treatments include diet and physical therapy for people with long-term health problems such as chronic pain.

Summary

A nerve block operates by stopping the entry of pain signals into the brain.

There are both operational (permanent) and temporary (nonsurgical) options.

They can be effective ways to treat chronic and acute pain, and are sometimes used by doctors in the diagnosis.

Some threats occur but they are small and very rare.

A person may wish to try alternatives for general pain, such as natural remedies or regular pain relievers.

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