The human spine is a delicate structure subject to a variety of diseases, injuries, and medical conditions known to cause serious pain. Facet syndrome is one of the more common medical conditions back pain sufferers experience. An effective, but not so well-known treatment, is the medial branch nerve block.
If you do not know anything about back pain or nerve blocks, the name of the procedure might make it sound extremely complicated. It is not. Medial branch nerve block is a therapy based on a quite simple concept: blocking pain signal so that they do not reach the brain.
Nerve blocks are remarkably similar to epidural injections. The epidural injection is common enough that most adults are familiar with it. It provides pain relief by bathing the epidural space near the spine with an anesthetic. Epidural injections represent a particularly good option when temporary pain relief is the goal.
As for the medial branch nerve block, it is based on the same principle. However, it is intended to offer more long-term pain relief. Nerve blocks do not block pain permanently in most cases. But the pain relief they do offer lasts more than a few hours, as is the case with most epidural injections.
Medial branch nerve block is one of the treatments Texas-based Lone Star Pain Medicine recommends for facet syndrome. Facet syndrome is a condition in which one or more of the facet joints in the back generate pain due to inflammation or nerve irritation.
Surgery would not be reasonable as a treatment for facet syndrome. Over the counter and prescription pain medications are a common treatment option, but they are not right for everyone. Therefore, the medial branch nerve block is another treatment patients can look at.
The procedure itself is simple enough. A doctor will use fluoroscopy to identify the source of the pain. Fluoroscopy also helps the doctor guide their needle to that site for injection. Two medications are injected: an anesthetic and corticosteroid.
The anesthetic provides immediate pain relief that can last for several hours. Meanwhile, corticosteroid works to reduce inflammation. As inflammation goes down, the patient’s pain subsides. The few pain signals that remain are deactivated by the medication so that they never reach the brain.
The medial branch nerve block is a safe, effective, and minimally invasive treatment for facet syndrome. Because it works so well, it can also be utilized as a diagnostic tool. For example, a doctor may suspect that facet syndrome is causing a patient’s pain. A medial nerve branch block will either confirm or contradict that diagnosis.
If facet syndrome is the culprit, the patient will experience immediate pain relief as soon as the anesthetic is injected. His or her doctor will know that facet syndrome is the correct diagnosis, and an appropriate course of treatment can commence. If pain relief is not realized, then facet syndrome is not the issue. The doctor knows to look for something else.
Patients can take comfort in the fact that the medial branch nerve block is performed as a quick, outpatient procedure right at the doctor’s office. No hospital admission is necessary. Most patients need only 30 minutes of evaluation before being sent home after treatment. Most can resume normal activity shortly thereafter.
As with all types of injections, there is always the risk of infection with this particular therapy. Patients concerned about infection should discuss those concerns with their doctors.