One of the most difficult types of pain to deal with or live with is back pain. Because your back is involved in almost every movement or activity, you engage in. Serious back pain can severely impact your daily life and cause you to be unable to participate in almost any action.
The location of the back pain makes a difference in the method of diagnosis and the type of treatment you may receive from a medical professional. An important diagnostic tool used by doctors is a medial branch block injection.
What Are Medial Branch Blocks?
Humans experience pain due to the nerves sending pain indicators to the brain. When the medial nerves in the facet joints are sending these pain signals, you will likely experience pain in the vertebrae of your back.
Facet joints are extremely important because they allow for movement in your back, so when these facet joints are injured, the medial nerves that run through them will send the pain signals to your brain, indicating a problem.
If you are experiencing back pain, you may not be aware of the source of the pain or if the facet joints or medial nerves are involved. When you decide to see a physician for the management of this back pain, one of the diagnostic tests that your doctor may conduct is the use of a medial branch block injection.
Medial branch blocks are spinal injections used to block the pain signals from your medial nerves, which run through the facet joints. These injections may also contain a steroid such as cortisone to reduce inflammation temporarily.
The primary purpose of the medial branch block in the facet joint is to assist your physician in determining if it is the medial branch nerves that are sending the pain signals. Medial branch blocks are placed outside of the facet joint near the medial branch nerves, and it is this placement differentiates it from a facet block.
How Doctors Use Medical Branch Block Injections
A medial branch block injection may provide temporary back pain relief, but it is not a permanent fix. Your doctor will use the medial branch block injection results to determine where the source of your pain is based. This includes the possibility of a sciatica diagnosis since sciatica is caused by facet joint degeneration.
When the injection is given, there may be a few outcomes that will help your doctor determine the source of your pain. If you find no pain relief from the medial branch block injection, this tells your doctor that the pain you feel does not stem from a facet joint.
Pain relief that only lasts for a few hours indicates that the facet joint is likely the problem, and your doctor can develop a treatment plan. Finally, suppose the pain is relieved for several days before returning.
In that case, this demonstrates that the steroid included in the injection helped and that you will need more treatment for medial branch nerves and facet joints.
Benefits Of The Medial Branch Block Procedure
While it may seem that pain management would be the primary goal for the medial branch nerve block, the actual main benefit of the procedure is identifying the source of your back pain.
If the medial branch block is effective in its diagnosis goal, then you can begin down the road to recovery and relief from discomfort. If not, your doctor has successfully eliminated a possibility and can move on to the next option.
Short-term pain relief may also benefit the injection, but it is important to remember that it is not permanent pain management.
Risks Of Medial Branch Blocks
As with any medical procedure, the medial branch blocks injections carry risks. There might be the possibility of bleeding or an active infection, allergic reaction, or even nerve damage if the injection was done in the wrong location.
While these are rare, it is important to be aware of them.
Additionally, some of the possible side effects that some patients have experienced include:
- painful or tender feelings at the injection site
Those who experience side effects are usually temporary but should still be discussed with an orthopedic spine surgeon.
How Does The Procedure Work?
When you arrive at your medial branch block injection appointment, you will first be observed by a spine surgeon to ensure that your vitals (such as blood pressure and heart rate) are in an appropriate range to continue with the procedure.
Once the monitoring is complete, you will be given some sedation to relax your muscles and calm you down if you are nervous.
Next, you will be placed either face down or on your side (for optimal spine exposure) and then given a local anesthetic to reduce discomfort during the procedure.
This may be the most painful part of the procedure, and most patients describe it as mild stinging or burning.
Once the anesthesia has kicked in, the injection will take place. It will only take a few seconds, and you will not feel anything due to the anesthesia. Upon completion, you will be observed for any side effects from the anesthetic or the injection itself.
If your discomfort stems from the facet joints, you should feel relief very soon after the procedure, but be sure to remember that it will be temporary since the branch block injection is a diagnostic tool.
Contact Our Spine Specialist
If you are experiencing serious discomfort in your spine or back and think it may be due to the median nerve or facet joint, contact our orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Daniel Possley.
He has the experience, expertise, and knowledge to help determine the source of the discomfort in your neck, low back, upper back, lumbar, or any other part of the spine.
Our dedicated medical team understands how tough it is for our patients to have painful feelings on their backs, and we are committed to bringing each patient back to ultimate health.