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Sympathetic Injections

Significantly Reducing Difficult-to-Pinpoint Pain

Nerve pain can be dull or burning and difficult to pinpoint. It is a pain that can rule your life, but it shouldn’t, because treatment is available. Sympathetic injections are used to diagnose or treat pain involving the sympathetic nerves, which spread out from your spine to your body to help control involuntary body functions such as blood pressure, temperature regulation, blood flow and more. Physicians at National Spine & Pain Centers understand the frustration of living with chronic pain caused by the sympathetic nerves. They are experts in diagnosing and treating this condition; they will see you quickly; and they will offer you a plan to return your quality of life.

What is the sympathetic nervous system?

The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling bodily functions that you do not think about or have direct control over. For example, we don’t notice when blood vessels, which are part of the sympathetic nervous system, change size. The sympathetic nerves run the length of the spine and merge together in some areas called ganglions. If the pain is in the upper part of your body, you will need to treat the stellate ganglion in your neck area. Pain in the lower part of your body means a ganglion near the low spine should be targeted with a lumbar sympathetic injection. Other parts of the body include the abdomen (the splanchnic nerves or celiac plexus), the pelvis (hypogastric plexus) and the perineum (ganglion impar). Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a relatively common disease associated with the sympathetic nervous system. Its symptoms include redness and swelling, a sudden change in skin color and temperature and a burning sensation.

What are sympathetic injections?

Sympathetic injections are an important diagnostic test to determine if sympathetic nerves are causing your pain. But the injections are also a treatment, providing long-lasting relief. A pain specialist, guided by fluoroscopy (x-ray imaging), initially injects a small amount of contrast dye to ensure the injection will flow as desired to the targeted tissue of sympathetic nerves. Once confirmed, the physician injects a local anesthetic and an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid medication into the area.

How long does it take?

Sympathetic injections are performed on an outpatient basis and typically require 20 minutes, followed by a brief observed recovery time.

How often should this procedure be done?

Up to three injections may be given within a six-month time frame. Usually, the injections are performed two to three weeks apart. A set of three injections is the norm; however, you may gain considerable relief after the first or second injection. In that instance, further injections may not be necessary.

What are the expected results?

Immediately following the procedure, you should not drive for several hours because you may experience temporary numbness or weakness. It’s recommended that you take it easy the day of the procedure, but return to your usual activities the following day. Although you might have some soreness for one to two days, the benefit from these injections will typically occur a few days following the procedure.

Is there a longer lasting therapy?

In addition to sympathetic injections, a radiofrequency procedure may be recommended to offer prolonged relief that you may not otherwise achieve. Radiofrequency uses heat created by a special generator to desensitize specific nerves and interfere with their ability to transmit pain signals. A radiofrequency procedure typically provides relief for 6 to 12 months, and for some up to two years and beyond. Another option might be spinal cord stimulation, which uses a small implanted electrical device to interrupt pain signals to the brain. The device is usually permanent, although it can be easily removed.

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