Sympathetic Nerve Block: Your Experience

A sympathetic nerve block helps your doctor find the cause of the burning, pain, or tingling in your arms and hands or legs and feet. During the test, medicine is injected near your spine. This blocks the sympathetic nerves in that region. If these nerves are causing your problem, the injection will relieve your symptoms for hours to days or longer.  This injection is used both to help diagnose, and to treat, certain nerve problems including chronic pain.

The injection is done in a hospital or surgery center. You’ll be asked to fill out some forms, including a consent form. You may also be examined.

Before you agree to this procedure, ask the healthcare provider the following question:

  • Why do I need this procedure?

  • Are there any alternatives?

  • How many times have you done this procedure?

  • What are the complications?

  • When will I see the results?

  • Will the drug in this injection interact with other medicines I am taking?

If you don't feel comfortable asking these questions, ask a family member or friend to come with you to ask them. The answers are critical to your health and safety.

Getting ready for your block

  • At least a week before the block, tell your doctor what medicines you take (including aspirin). Ask whether you should stop taking any of them before treatment.

  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or allergic to any medicines.

  • Stop eating or drinking 8 hours before you check in for your block.

  • If asked, bring X-rays, MRIs, or other tests with you on the day of the block.

During the procedure

To help you relax, your healthcare provider may give you medicine through an IV line. You will lie on an exam table on your stomach, back, or side. This depends on where you will be injected. During your block:

  • The skin over the injection site is cleaned. A pain medicine (local anesthetic) numbs the skin.

  • X-ray imaging (fluoroscopy) may be used to help your doctor see where the medicine goes. A contrast “dye” may be added to the medicine to help get a better image.

  • A healthcare provider injects a local anesthetic near the ganglion (cluster of nerves) to numb your nerves. If the sympathetic nerves are causing your problem, the temperature in your hands or feet will rise quickly. The block will relieve your symptoms for a while. Sympathetic nerve blocks may give long-term relief from symptoms. For this treatment, a few blocks are given 1 to 2 weeks apart.

After the procedure

You will stay in recovery for about an hour. Once you can walk, you can go home. Have an adult friend or relative drive you. A neck injection may cause the eyelid on that side of your face to droop a little. Your voice may also be hoarse. These things will go away in a few hours when the anesthetic wears off. Within a day or two, your hand or foot symptoms will most likely return. The injection site may also be swollen and sore for a few days. Your doctor can tell you when it’s OK to return to work.

When to call your doctor

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Chest pain

  • Prolonged hoarseness

  • Fever

  • Any other concerns