There are several different vertebrae located within the spinal area, and they extend from the neck all the way down to the tailbone (coccyx). Within the vertebra is a group of nerves called sympathetic nerves, and they are located within the sixth and seventh regions, which are present in the neck. Some conditions can cause the nerves to become irritated or damaged, which can lead to painful sensations throughout various areas of the body. When pain is present within this area, a stellate ganglion block may be a treatment option that can effectively reduce pain.
The sympathetic nerves are responsible for the sympathetic nervous system function, which includes proper nerve transmission to the arms and facial area. While these nerves are not involved in the process of movement or feeling, when a medical condition causes damage to occur to the stellate ganglion nerve group, it produces pain, which may be reduced with the use of a stellate ganglion block. This type of block is offered through the form of an injection, which contains a local anesthetic injected into the front of the neck.
If the pain that is present is due to disruption of the nerves within the stellate ganglion collection, the stellate block is very effective in blocking out the pain that is present. In order to have this treatment be effective, a diagnosis is first made, which is done to determine the exact cause of pain in the neck, face, head, arms, chest, or some of these regions.
The stellate ganglion block injection has two different properties, the anesthetic, which offers immediate pain relief, and a medication that works to reduce or eliminate a chemical made by the body called norepinephrine. This chemical causes the nerves in this region to have sensitivity to pain. By reducing norepinephrine in the body, the nerve block can relieve pain completely, and the positive effects of this nerve block can last for over a year in some patients.
The stellate block treatment is done by using a small x-ray device, which will guide the needle to the location where the ganglion nerves are present. The injection will then release the medication through a fine needle. Please note that the patient is usually sedated during this process. The success rate is high for those who are experiencing pain as a direct cause of the nerves in this region, and after the injection is made, some patients will achieve pain relief right away, while others may need a few hours before it is experienced.
While there are not many side effects associated with the stellate ganglion block, some patients will experience a hoarse voice, reddening of the eyes, and a warm sensation in the facial region. These symptoms will generally occur within minutes of the injection, but they will disappear just hours after the injection takes place. Also, these side effects do not cause too much discomfort.
When pain is present in the head, neck, chest or arms due nerve damage, such as an infection that is persistent or ongoing, the stellate ganglion block can offer effective pain relief. While certain infections can cause damage to this region of nerves, they can also be injured due to certain traumas that occurs, or if areas around the nerves are affected and pressure occurs. Recent studies also show that because the stellate ganglion block acts around the main nerve that controls our “fight or flight response,” it may also be effective in reducing the symptoms of PTSD. By using a local anesthetic in the anterior region of the neck, targeting cervical sympathetic chain activity, a stellate ganglion block allows for the body to reboot the autonomic nervous system by reducing fight or flight responses for roughly 24 hours. This “reboot” may provide several months of relief from PTSD symptoms. Most recently, studies have shown that stellate ganglion block may also be effective in the reduction of long COVID symptoms, including loss of taste and smell.
The stellate ganglion block may be used in the treatment of the following conditions:
- Sympatric dystrophy
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Long COVID