A medial branch block is an injection of a strong local anesthetic over the medial branch nerves that supply the facet joints. This procedure may be performed as a diagnostic tool or as a therapeutic treatment. The injection may also include a steroid medication, depending on the intent of the procedure.
What Are Facet Joints?
The facet joints, also known as zygapophysial joints, are part of the bony framework that makes up the spine. These joint structures connect the vertebrae to one another, enabling freedom of movement as you bend forward and back. Like other joints in the body, the facet joints are lined by cartilage, allowing the bones to glide smoothly over one another, along with a capsule surrounding the joint.
The medial branch nerves are the small nerves that feed out from the facet joints and carry pain signals from the spine to the brain. Inflamed or irritated facet joints are a common cause of low, mid back and neck pain.
Diagnostic Medial Branch Nerve Blocks
A diagnostic nerve block is employed in order to target a specific nerve, or group of nerves, that may be causing the patient’s pain. Small amounts of a local anesthetic are injected onto the targeted nerve(s) in order to temporarily disrupt the pain signals from reaching the brain. The patient is then assessed for changes in pain symptoms.
If a particular medial branch nerve or nerve group is numbed, and the patient experiences significant pain relief, then the location of the pain source is likely established. If a medial branch block confirms that a patient’s pain is originating from a facet joint, then a more effective treatment plan can be developed, which may include further nerve blocks.
If the amount of relief the patient experiences is significant enough, they may be a candidate for a subsequent procedure known as a medial branch radiofrequency neurotomy. In this procedure, a very localized heat lesion is created on the affected nerve(s), essentially cauterizing the nerves that are carrying pain signals to the brain.
Medial Branch Blocks for Therapeutic Purposes
Medial Branch Blocks may also be used as a non-surgical treatment method for arthritis related back and neck pain. Once a diagnostic test has confirmed the source of your pain, an injection that includes both a long-lasting steroid and a local anesthetic may be administered over the nerve that provides sensation to the facet joint.
For some patients, repeat nerve blocks may prove to be beneficial for chronic, function-limiting pain of facet joint origin. The steroid medication works to reduce inflammation and irritation in the facet joints while the local anesthetic works to numb the pain.
Schedule an Appointment for Back of Neck Pain Management
If you are experiencing chronic neck or back pain, then inflamed or irritated facet joints may be to blame. To schedule an appointment with an Austin pain doctor, please call (512) 981-7246 or click on the appointment request button below.