Among the various types of pain that someone might suffer, back and neck pain are among the most debilitating. This pain can make it hard for people to stand, walk, drive, or read a book. Many people develop chronic neck or back pain that stems from an acute injury. Fortunately, a medial branch block is an effective treatment option that can help people who suffer from this type of pain.
What Is a Medial Branch Block?
A medial branch block is a minimally-invasive procedure that can help individuals suffering from both acute and chronic pain in the neck and back. This procedure can also help people avoid surgery.
Bony structures called vertebrae support the spine. These vertebrae are separated by cushions called discs. The discs are stabilized by facet joints, which allow the spine to bend, twist, and flex safely. The medial nerve runs through these facet joints, providing innervation to the back and spine.
Due to both acute and chronic medical conditions, facet joints can become inflamed and irritated. This transmits pain signals to the medial nerve. Then, this nerve carries pain signals to the brain.
The goal of a medial branch block is to halt these pain signals. Using an anesthetic, this nerve becomes numb, improving someone’s quality of life.
What Conditions Can This Procedure Treat?
First, a medial branch block is an effective diagnostic tool. Sometimes, patients and doctors do not know where the pain is coming from. In this case, a medial branch block can be used to test the medial nerve. If this procedure stops the pain, then the diagnosis is confirmed.
Of course, a medial branch block also treats the pain itself. Some of the conditions that this nerve block can treat include:
- Pain from the sacroiliac joint, which is located in the pelvis
- Osteoarthritis in the back, which can lead to pain and inflammation throughout the spine
- Pain in the facet joints of the spine
- Pain from a herniated disc, which results when one of the discs between the vertebrae ruptures
A medial branch block can provide immediate pain relief that can help patients resume their daily activities. This might include physical therapy or occupational therapy that would otherwise not be possible without this pain relief.
How is a Medial Branch Block Performed?
On the day of the procedure, the patient will come into the office and lay down on the table. Their back will face the ceiling. Next, the doctor will provide an injection in the area of the medial nerve. This injection contains a steroid (which reduces inflammation) and an anesthetic (which reduces pain). Combined, these two medications provide effective pain relief.
To ensure the medication is placed in the proper area, the doctor will employ fluoroscopy. This is live imaging that visualizes the needle as the medial branch block enters the proper location.
Typically, this procedure takes less than 15 minutes. In some cases, patients might need more than one injection to completely treat their pain. The good news is that this procedure could provide several months of effective pain relief. If the injection wears off, patients are welcome to come back for additional treatment sessions.
What Are the Risks?
As with any procedure, there are a few risks of a medial branch block that patients should note. Some patients might feel sore at the injection site. Ice packs and ibuprofen can manage this discomfort. There is also a possibility of an infection at the injection site. This is unusual because the doctor sterilizes the area prior to the procedure. Finally, it is also possible that there could be some nerve damage. Live imaging minimizes this risk.
In addition, there could be some side effects from an injected corticosteroid. These include:
- Weight gain
- Elevated blood sugar
- Stomach ulcers
- A temporarily weakened immune system
With the amount of corticosteroid injected during this procedure, these side effects are highly unlikely; however, they are possible. We will discuss all of the risks and benefits of a medial branch block with you prior to the procedure.
Contact MidSouth Pain Today!
At MidSouth Pain, we are proud to provide our patients with a variety of treatment options for both acute and chronic pain. We will do everything we can to manage your discomfort and help you improve your quality of life. Contact us today to learn more about this and other treatment services!