If you have nerve pain in the head, neck, upper arm or upper chest that does not respond to other treatment, you could be a candidate for this safe, minimally invasive procedure.
Here’s a bit of background: The stellate ganglion is part of the sympathetic nervous system. These nerves help prepare the body to fight off or retreat from danger, such as increasing the heart rate and boosting the release of sugar into the blood. Sometimes, after one of the stellate ganglion nerves is sensitized by infection, trauma or other event, the sympathetic activity can cause you pain.
Blocking the sympathetic activity by anesthetizing the stellate ganglion may stop the pain. A stellate ganglion block (also called a sympathetic block) is an injection of local anesthetic that’s done to:
- Diagnose the cause of pain in your face and head, arms and chest
- Manage pain in your head, neck, chest or arm caused by nerve injuries, the effects of an attack of shingles (herpes zoster), or angina that won’t go away
- Reduce sweating in your face, head, arms and hands
- Treat reflex sympathetic dystrophy, sympathetic maintained pain, or complex regional pain syndrome
It can be either diagnostic – to find the cause of your pain; or therapeutic – to relieve the pain.
Here’s how the stellate ganglion procedure is performed by an experienced physician at New Jersey Pain Care Specialists:
- First, you’re made comfortable on the procedure table and you’re given an intravenous medication to relax you.
- After the area that requires treatment is sterilized, a local anesthetic is applied to numb the skin and all tissue down to the ganglion nerves.
- A fine needle is gently slid through the anesthetized track and a contrast solution is injected so the physician can use a real-time fluoroscope x-ray device to see the effected areas and to confirm the correct location of the needle tip.
- Next, a mixture of anesthetic, saline and anti-inflammatory medicine is injected around the ganglion nerves to block pain signals from reaching the brain.
Usually, the procedure takes under 30 minutes, and you can be driven home afterward and return to your normal activities after a full day of rest.
How long the pain relief lasts is different for each individual. Some patients report pain relief immediately after the injection, but the pain could return a few hours later as the anesthetic wears off. Longer-term relief usually begins in two to three days, once the steroid begins to work.
You may be pain-free for days or weeks. And, usually you’ll need a series of injections to continue the pain relief. Sometimes it takes as few as two injections; and sometimes more than 10. Thankfully, the relief tends to last longer with each treatment.