A nerve block is an injection that may provide temporary pain relief. It can also help diagnose sources of nerve pain. There are several different types of nerve blocks based on which nerve it’s targeting, such as a genicular nerve block or an occipital nerve block.
A nerve block is an injection of medication close to a targeted nerve or group of nerves to provide temporary pain relief. Some injections provide prolonged pain relief. An injection of anti-inflammatory medication in addition to local anesthetic may allow the damaged nerves to heal by relieving the inflammation.
Nerves are like cables that carry electrical signals between your brain and the rest of your body and vice versa. These signals help you feel sensations (like touch and pain) and move your muscles. They also maintain certain functions like breathing, sweating or digesting food. Nerve blocks mainly address issues with pain signaling, but they can affect other nerve functions as well.
The effects of the injection are usually quick, but nerve blocks are often just a temporary fix. Some people may benefit from one injection, while others need multiple. Some people don’t experience any effects from the block and may require different treatment methods to manage their symptoms.
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Nerve blocks have three general purposes:
Your body has hundreds of major nerves that could be potentially targeted for a nerve block. Because of this, there are several types of nerve blocks. A few examples include:
To understand how nerve blocks work, it helps to understand how your body processes pain:
Anesthetics in nerve blocks work by preventing nerve cells from sending or relaying those coded electrical signals.
Sometimes, your body can respond to an injury with an inflammatory response that lasts too long. Extended inflammation can cause extended pain. In this case, the medication can also reduce inflammation in the affected nerve to allow it time to heal. This may lead to a decrease in pain.
You usually don’t have to do anything special to prepare for a nerve block.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend sedation for the procedure. If you’re receiving sedation, you’ll need to fast for six to eight hours before it. You’ll also need someone else to drive you home after the procedure.
In any case, your healthcare provider will let you know what to do if anything. Be sure to follow their instructions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Doctors typically perform nerve blocks for pain management in an outpatient setting. This means you’re not admitted to a hospital for the procedure and can go home shortly after it.
There are hundreds of types and varieties of nerve blocks, each with slightly different processes. But in general, you can expect the following when you receive a nerve block:
After the injection, you’ll rest for 15 to 30 minutes to let the medication take effect. A healthcare provider will also observe you during this time to make sure you don’t have any unexpected side effects. You’ll then be able to go home.
Potential benefits of a nerve block include:
It’s important to note that not everyone experiences pain relief from nerve blocks. You may need to try other treatment options if this is the case. In addition, some nerve blocks may only be effective if you do a course of physical therapy afterward.
Complications of nerve blocks are rare. And each type of nerve block has different risks and side effects. For example, a stellate ganglion block may cause difficulty swallowing, drooping eyes and hoarseness. A celiac plexus block may lead to delayed emptying of stomach contents (gastroparesis).
But in general, risks and complications of nerve blocks include:
Be sure to talk to your provider about the risks and benefits of the specific type of nerve block you’re getting.
Pain relief from a nerve block can vary significantly. It may last a few days, several weeks, months or even years. Each person responds differently. Some people may get relief from a single injection, while others may need multiple nerve block treatments. Some people don’t experience any pain relief.
Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any new symptoms or complications from the nerve block, such as an infection or nerve issues like burning pain, weakness or tingling.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Nerve blocks can help treat a variety of pain-related conditions. But the results can vary considerably from person to person. If you’re feeling anxious about receiving a nerve block injection, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider about it and the procedure. They can answer any questions you may have.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/07/2023.
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