Your doctor may recommend a nerve root block procedure for you for diagnostic, exploratory, or treatment purposes. A diagnostic nerve root block is performed in order to determine the exact location of the nerve that is delivering pain signals. If the injection relieves your pain right away, then your doctor has found the nerve root causing your problem.
In some cases, your doctor might perform a nerve root block before surgery or as a way to see if surgery would be effective for your spine disorder. The nerve root block is also an effective treatment on its own for back pain. By delivering an anti-inflammatory steroid and a pain reliever into the spine where the nerves are rooted, your doctor may be able to eliminate the excessive pressure on the nerve and surrounding tissues.
How the Nerve Root Block Works
A nerve root block is an injection of pain relief medication, and sometimes steroids, into your spine. In order to perform this procedure, your doctor begins by placing an intravenous line into your arm. This setup provides you with fluids, antibiotics, and a sedative to help you relax during the procedure. The nerve root block procedure takes place in a room with fluoroscopy X-ray equipment. Your back will be cleaned with an antiseptic and you will be positioned on an exam table, laying down on your stomach but slightly propped up by some pillows.
Your doctor will then give you a numbing shot into the skin of your back. This shot takes effect within about 15 seconds. A bigger needle attached to a syringe with a fluorescent dye, and an anesthetic is inserted into the space between your vertebrae. This is done while the X-ray equipment is in use so that your doctor can get a live picture of where the needle is located. The mixture of the pain relieving anesthetic and steroid are then injected near the nerve that is transmitting the perception of pain from your spine to your brain. The needle is removed and the injection site is covered up with a small bandage.
A nerve root block procedure takes about one hour, and you can go home on the same day. The anesthetic and steroid medicines are well-tolerated by most patients. If you had been contemplating a back surgery, the results of your nerve block will help you to achieve the best chances at permanent elimination of your back pain. In many people, a nerve root block provides effective pain relief on its own. The delivery of the steroid allows for inflamed tissue to return to its normal level of functioning.
Candidates for a Nerve Root Block
You may need to have a nerve root block procedure if you are considering back surgery and want to know the likelihood of the surgery’s success. The nerve root block can also indicate to your doctor which type and location of spine surgery may be the most successful at treating your pain. If you are in severe acute pain, getting a nerve root block treatment can provide you with lasting relief of your symptoms. You may also need to have a nerve root block procedure so that your doctor can accurately determine the location of your pain after other diagnostic procedures such as a CT or MRI scan have not delivered conclusive results.
What to Expect After You Have a Nerve Root Block
Once the anesthetic medication has reached the nerve, you should experience a nearly immediate relief of your pain. The effectiveness of the steroid medication starts to work within a few days, and your swelling and inflammation should be completely gone by about two weeks after the nerve root block is performed. The pain relief effects can last for months.
If your pain gradually returns, another nerve root block can be performed four months or later after your previous procedure. You will need to avoid performing vigorous exercise or doing strenuous activities at work for about two weeks after a nerve root block. This gives your muscles, tendons, and ligaments a chance to heal.