Nerve Blocks

What are nerve blocks?
Often a group of nerves, called a plexus or ganglion, that causes pain to a specific organ or body region can be blocked with local medicine. The injection (shot) of this nerve-numbing substance is called a nerve block. Nerve blocks can be used, in some cases, to avoid surgical options.

How are nerve blocks used?
Different types of nerve blocks are used for different purposes. When used for therapeutic purposes, nerve blocks treat painful conditions. Such nerve blocks contain local anesthetic (pain-relieving medicine) that can be used to control acute pain. Therapeutic nerve blocks can provide periods of dramatic pain relief. These nerve blocks usually contain a steroid-like substance. Diagnostic nerve blocks help doctors  determine sources of pain. These blocks typically contain an anesthetic with known duration of relief. Prognostic nerve blocks predict the outcomes of given treatments. Pre-emptive nerve blocks are meant to prevent subsequent pain from a procedure that can cause problems, including phantom limb pain.

Types of nerve blocks
Various areas of pain require different nerve block types. Below are a few of the available nerve blocks, followed in parentheses by some of the parts of the body for which they are used:

Other nerve blocks
A sympathetic nerve block is one that is performed to determine if there is damage to the sympathetic nerve chain. This is a network of nerves extending the length of the spine. These nerves control some of the involuntary functions of the body, such as opening and narrowing blood vessels.

A stellate ganglion block is a type of sympathetic nerve block. It is performed to determine if there is damage to the sympathetic nerve chain supplying the head, neck, chest, and arms, and if it is the source of the patientís pain in those areas. Although used mainly as a diagnostic block, the stellate ganglion might provide pain relief in excess of the duration of the anesthetic.

A facet joint block (also known as a zygapophysial joint block) is performed to determine whether a facet joint is a source of pain. Facet joints are located on the back of the spine, where one vertebra slightly overlaps another. These joints guide and restrict the spineís movement.

Nerve blocks are not always the answer
Although many types of nerve blocks exist, this treatment cannot always be used. Nerve blocks can carry risks, including:

Your doctor can advise you as to whether this treatment is appropriate for you.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit or This document was last reviewed on: 7/30/2015