We all know how uncomfortable pain can be. Pain is associated with impaired quality of life due to negative influence on everyday activities. Fortunately, modern medicine offers us great opportunities in pain management and enables a more comfortable life without pain. A stellate ganglion block may be the right choice if you have nerve pain in the head, neck, upper arm, or upper chest that does not respond to other treatment.
What is Stellate Ganglion?
The stellate ganglion is part of the sympathetic nervous system that is located in your neck, on either side of the voice box. The sympathetic system organizes, processes, and sends messages from the brain to the rest of the body in response to stress. A stellate ganglion block (sympathetic block) is an injection of local anesthetic that delivers anesthetic medication to a group of nerves. It is commonly used for pain located in the head, neck, chest, or arm. Pain is habitually caused by:
- sympathetically maintained pain (reflex sympathetic dystrophy)
- causalgia (nerve injury)
- herpes zoster (shingles)
- intractable angina (pain related to decreased blood flow to the heart)
How does the SGB procedure work?
The procedure is performed by injecting pain-relieving medicine into the region where the ganglion lies. The patient is usually sedated, and by using X-ray (fluoroscopy) guidance, a fine needle is placed near the stellate ganglion, and an anesthetic is injected. Stellate ganglion block quiets the nerve information transmitted by the sympathetic nervous system for the period that the local anesthetic is effective (up to 6 hours). The block is useful in resetting the sympathetic nervous system offering much-needed relief to people with neuropathic and/or vascular pain.
The procedure typically takes less than 5 minutes to perform. Stellate ganglion block is followed by a short-term recovery period before you are discharged home. The risks of the procedure, though infrequent, include:
- Seizure (if the medication is injected into a blood vessel)
- Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
- Brachial plexus block (numbness of the arm that lasts for hours)
- Spinal or epidural block (temporary weakness or numbness from the neck down)
- Allergy to medication
- Nerve damage
- Bruising at the injection site