Stellate ganglion blocks are used for pain, swelling and sweating in the face or upper extremities.
Many different types of pain control methods are used today. With the rise of the opioid epidemic, many practitioners want to move away from prescribing pills for pain control. Different types of injections can provide the same or better pain relief than a pill. One of these methods is a stellate ganglion block.
What Is a Stellate Ganglion Block?
A stellate ganglion block is simply an injection of an anesthetic into the nerves of the neck. These nerves are located on either side of the larynx, commonly known as the voice box. They can occasionally become hyperactive, causing pain. The block works to settle the nerves down again, reducing and sometimes eliminating the pain. The injections are done in a series of about six shots, performed weekly.
What Conditions Can Be Helped by This Procedure?
It can be used for various chronic pain syndromes, such as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, herpes zoster, complex regional pain syndrome and sympathetic maintained pain.
How Is the Procedure Performed?
A block of this type can be performed with just a local anesthetic, but some patients may prefer more sedation through their IV. IV sedation keeps the patient more relaxed, generally making the injection easier. The type of anesthetic or sedation used will be determined by the practitioner in accordance to the patient’s wishes. The patient’s vital signs will be continuously monitored during the injection. Once everything is set up, the actual injection does not take long. If the patient has received IV sedation, they will need someone to transport them home.
Are There Risks to This Procedure?
All injections present similar risks of infection and bleeding. If you are allergic to any of the medications used, there is the risk of an allergic reaction. Muscle weakness, dizziness and a mild headache are also side effects that are occasionally seen. Pain and discomfort at the injection site may occur, due to irritating those nerves that are nearby. Drinking water and taking Tylenol and ibuprofen can help alleviate some of these side effects. Serious side effects are rare, but the patient will be instructed on what to watch for and when to call the doctor.
How Long Will the Pain Relief Last?
The first injection may not bring any pain relief, or there may be some relief for a few hours. Longer lasting pain relief will start to be seen after the second or third injection. By the last injection of the series, the relief may last six to twelve months. Depending on the evaluation of the procedure on that particular patient, the provider may decide to extend the series a few extra weeks. Syndromes that are diagnosed in the early stages and begin treatment right away can achieve successful pain control and may even be cured in some instances.
A stellate ganglion block is used for very specific conditions but when used properly, it can provide immense pain relief.