Frequently Asked Questions on Medial Branch Blocks
What is a Medial Branch Nerve Block?
The medial branches are small ‘branches’ of nervous tissue that stem from the main spinal nerves and provide feeling and function to the surrounding spinal structures – namely, the facet joints.
Facet joints are small, thumbnail-sized pieces of bone that link the vertebrae of the spine together. These assist in providing movement to the spine. If a complication arises in these joints leading to symptomatic pains, a medial branch nerve block can help to obtain relief for a patient by blocking the transmission of pain signals from the nerves to the brain.
What can be gained from Medial Branch Nerve Blocks and what are the goals, expectations, and hope when a patient gets Medial Branch Blocks?
The patient stands to gain relief from neck or back pain when they receive the Medial Branch Nerve Block, whether the condition is acute or chronic. For patients who have debilitating levels of pain, a nerve block in these branches can help regain a normal level of spinal activity.
How is the Medial Branch Nerve Block procedure performed?
First, the patient is given an I.V. sedative to help them relax, or one may only need local numbing in the soft tissues. The area to be injected is cleaned and an anesthetic is given to numb the skin in the injection area. With the aid of a fluoroscope, a type of X-ray machine that takes real-time images, the physician inserts a tiny needle.
A dye is injected to ensure the correct nerves are being treated. This is then followed by an injection to the around around the medial branches with numbing medicine and possibly some steroid as well. There are medial brances supplying sensation to each facet joint from above and below, so the injection actually is performed in two areas to cover each set of nerve endings. The injection only takes about ten minutes or so, but the patient will have to rest afterwards. With the prep time prior to the injection, it takes about half an hour for the entire procedure.
How long does Medial Branch Nerve Blocks last?
The effects from the procedure on average last between 6 and 12 weeks. If enough relief is felt by the patient (typically, 80% improvement or better is desired), he or she may be a candidate for a longer-lasting, more permanent procedure.
The most common one performed is called a radiofrequency neurotomy. A radiofrequency neurotomy, or radiofrequency ablation, is a procedure where the nerve endings will be carefully destroyed to provide long term relief, often over a year.
What risk or side effects are there with Medial Nerve Branch Blocks?
Risks from the Medial Nerve Branch Block procedure are low and rare. There is the chance that the patient may experience an allergic reaction to the medication, bleeding or discomfort at the injection site, infection, or a worsening of pain. Paralysis due to nerve damage from the needle can occur, although it is very rare.
What conditions are treatable with Medial Branch Nerve Blocks?
Trauma, bulging and/or herniated intervertebral discs can all be reasons for chronic pain. The Medial Nerve Branch Block procedure is intended to provide temporary relief for these both as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool.
It is used to determine if the patient is a candidate for another procedure called a radiofrequency neurotomy, based on what percentage of pain relief is obtained with the block. The fact that it often provides months of pain relief makes it a valuable treatment as well!
How successful are Medial Branch Nerve Blocks for the relief of pain?
Success rates for the Medial Branch Nerve Block procedure will vary from patient to patient. Typically, a patient will feel some level of relief immediately after the anesthetic is injected around the nerve endings.
If you or a loved one would like to learn more about Medial Branch Blocks for neck and back pain relief, contact Texas Pain Network today. Over 25 treatment options are offered in addition to the blocks, and over 95% of patients are able to avoid surgery!
Call (210) 202-4030 for more information and scheduling!