Lumbar Sympathetic Block

If you are suffering from severe or chronic low back or leg pain, a lumbar sympathetic block may offer relief. It is not the initial choice for pain treatment, but proves effective when more conservative therapies have not worked.

Certain types of chronic pain respond especially well to lumbar sympathetic blocks. Consult a skilled doctor as soon as possible to determine whether this procedure is suitable for your pain situation.

Sympathetic Nerves

The sympathetic nerves are part of the body’s autonomic nervous system, which regulate bodily functions over which a person has no direct control. The sympathetic nerves lie on the front of the spinal column, on either side of the spine and not inside the spinal canal.

Any injury involving the sympathetic nerves can result in disruption of this automatic regulation, with considerable pain ensuing. Lumbar sympathetic nerves carry nerve signals from the legs and feet.

A lumbar sympathetic block consists of an injection of a local anesthetic in the back for the purpose of pain relief. The injection “blockades” the sympathetic nerves. Sometimes the block is performed to identify whether a patient’s pain results from lumbar sympathetic nerve issues.

If the block provides pain relief, the lumbar sympathetic nerves were the problem. If there is no relief from the injection, further diagnostics are necessary.

Treated Conditions

A lumbar sympathetic block treats various lower back or leg pain issues. These include:

  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • Sciatica
  • Shingles infections in the legs
  • Vascular insufficiency

The injection is also used to treat conditions falling under the term “complex regional pain syndrome,” which usually affects the limbs after an injury and results in chronic pain. The ongoing pain remains out of proportion to the original trauma.

Procedure

Patients undergoing this procedure must fast for at least six hours. The lumbar sympathetic block procedure lasts about a half hour, and patients return home immediately afterward. The patient receives intravenous relaxing medication and then lies down face first on an examination table. Some patients may prefer complete sedation.

A local anesthetic is applied to the back. The doctor uses an X-ray to guide a needle into the back, on the outside of the spine. A dye injection establishes that the injection is going to the correct place, and the doctor then injects the block.

Side effects are minimal and may include bruising or tenderness at the injection site. Patients can resume normal activities within 24 hours. They should not drive home from after their lumbar sympathetic block procedure, but have a relative, friend, or car service bring them back.

Pain Relief

Most patients will require more than one injection to retain pain relief. Some people may require numerous injections.

Most patients obtain pain relief right after the procedure, but this may prove temporary. Part of that instant relief stems from the local anesthetic, and once that wears off in a few hours, some pain returns. However, the effects of the block should kick in within two to three days, allowing for long-term pain cessation.

Patients on blood-thinning medications should not undergo this block. Nor should anyone with an infection or wound around the injection area.

Contact a Doctor

If you experience lower back pain or leg pain and want to learn more about lumbar sympathetic blocks, contact an experienced doctor to make an appointment for an examination.