Stellate Ganglion Block

We have helped many patients with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CPRS) and other chronic pain conditions with a Stellate Ganglion Block.  Contact us to see if this treatment is right for you.

What is a Stellate Ganglion Block?

A stellate ganglion block is a specialized procedure used in pain management to alleviate chronic pain conditions that are mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. The stellate ganglion is a collection of nerves located in the neck, near the base of the cervical spine, which serves as a relay station for sympathetic nervous signals. By injecting a local anesthetic into this ganglion, the procedure aims to block these nerve signals, providing relief from pain, swelling, and other discomforts in the upper extremities and, in some cases, the face and head. This block is particularly effective for conditions such as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), phantom limb pain, and postherpetic neuralgia, as well as for treating excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) and Raynaud's phenomenon.

The procedure is typically performed under fluoroscopic guidance to ensure the accurate placement of the needle and the anesthetic near the stellate ganglion. Patients may experience immediate relief of their symptoms following the block, which can last for weeks to months, depending on the individual's response. In addition to providing pain relief, the stellate ganglion block can also serve as a diagnostic tool to confirm the source of pain and guide further treatment decisions. Despite its effectiveness, the procedure carries some risks, such as hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, drooping of the eyelid on the affected side, or, rarely, a pneumothorax (collapsed lung). However, when performed by an experienced practitioner, the stellate ganglion block is a safe and valuable option for managing certain chronic pain conditions.

What are the benefits and risks of a Stellate Ganglion Block?

Bursa injections, typically involving the administration of corticosteroids directly into the bursa (a fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between tissues of the body), offer a targeted approach to reducing inflammation and pain in joints affected by bursitis or other inflammatory conditions. These injections can provide significant benefits but also come with potential risks.

Benefits

  • Pain Relief: The primary benefit is significant pain relief, especially for conditions like Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), certain types of chronic neck pain, and neuropathic pain affecting the upper limbs.
  • Improved Circulation: By blocking sympathetic nerves, it can improve blood flow and reduce symptoms of circulatory disorders in the affected areas.
  • Diagnostic Utility: Helps in diagnosing the cause of pain by determining if the sympathetic nervous system is involved, guiding further treatment decisions.
  • Reduction of Symptoms: Can lead to a decrease in swelling, color, and temperature changes in the affected limb, as well as a reduction in sweating.
  • Minimal Invasiveness: Compared to surgical options, it is a minimally invasive procedure with a relatively quick recovery time.

Risks

  • Infection: As with any procedure involving injections, there's a risk of infection at the injection site.
  • Bleeding: There is a small risk of bleeding, especially if the patient is on blood-thinning medications.
  • Hoarseness of Voice: Temporary hoarseness can occur due to the block affecting the recurrent laryngeal nerve.
  • Difficulty Swallowing: Some patients may experience transient difficulty swallowing immediately after the procedure.
  • Pneumothorax: Although rare, there is a risk of puncturing the lung (pneumothorax) during the procedure, requiring medical intervention.: Although rare, there is a risk of puncturing the lung (pneumothorax) during the procedure, requiring medical intervention.
  • Horner's Syndrome: A common side effect where patients may experience drooping of the eyelid, constricted pupil, and absence of sweating on the side of the face where the block was performed.
  • Allergic Reactions: There's a possibility of allergic reactions to the medications used during the block.

Despite these risks, a stellate ganglion block can be a highly effective treatment for managing certain types of pain and improving the quality of life for many patients. Schedule a pain consultation to have a detailed discussion about the potential benefits and risks before deciding if this procedure is right for you.

Who is a good candidate for a Stellate Ganglion Block?

Good candidates for a stellate ganglion block typically include individuals suffering from conditions that involve the sympathetic nervous system, particularly when other treatments have failed to provide adequate relief. These conditions often include:

  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS): Especially for those with CRPS affecting the upper limbs, a stellate ganglion block can provide significant pain relief and improvement in function.
  • Certain Types of Chronic Neck Pain: Patients with neck pain that has a sympathetic component may benefit from this procedure.
  • Phantom Limb Pain: Individuals experiencing pain in a limb that has been amputated may find relief through a stellate ganglion block.
  • Postherpetic Neuralgia: For those suffering from lingering pain after an outbreak of shingles in the upper body, this block can be beneficial.
  • Vascular Insufficiency: Patients with circulation issues in the upper extremities may experience improved blood flow and symptom relief following a stellate ganglion block.
  • Hot Flashes and Sleep Disturbances in Breast Cancer Survivors: Some studies have shown benefits in reducing hot flashes and improving sleep.
  • Anxiety and PTSD: Emerging evidence suggests that stellate ganglion block may help alleviate symptoms of severe anxiety and PTSD, although this is considered a more experimental application.

Candidates should have a clear diagnosis and history of pain that suggests a significant sympathetic nervous system component. They should also be in overall good health to minimize the risks associated with the procedure. It's essential for patients to discuss their medical history, current medications, and any allergies with a specialist to ensure they are suitable candidates for a stellate ganglion block. This procedure is usually considered after other conservative treatments, like medication and physical therapy, have been tried without sufficient relief.

How is a Stellate Ganglion Block performed?

We perform Stellate Ganglion Blocks in our pain clinics on an outpatient basis under fluoroscopic (X-ray) guidance to ensure accuracy. The procedure typically involves the following steps:

Preparation

  • Preparation: The patient is placed in a supine (lying on the back) or slightly oblique position with the neck extended to expose the front side of the neck. The skin over the neck is cleaned, and a sterile field is established.
  • Anesthesia: A local anesthetic may be applied to the skin to minimize discomfort during the procedure.
  • Needle Insertion: Using fluoroscopic guidance, the physician advances a thin needle toward the stellate ganglion, located at the level of the C6 or C7 vertebra in the neck. The position of the needle is carefully monitored by fluoroscopy to ensure it is correctly placed near the stellate ganglion.
  • Contrast Dye Injection: Once the needle is in the correct position, a small amount of contrast dye is injected to confirm that the needle tip is in the right location and not inside a blood vessel.
  • Medication Injection: After confirming the needle placement, a mixture of local anesthetic (and sometimes steroid medication) is injected around the stellate ganglion. This blocks the sympathetic nerves that are contributing to the patient's pain.
  • Monitoring and Recovery: After the injection, the patient is monitored for a short period for any adverse reactions. The immediate effects, such as warmth in the arm or a droopy eyelid on the side of the injection (Horner's syndrome), indicate that the block has been successfully administered. These effects are temporary.

Patients can go home the same day but are advised not to drive and to take it easy for the rest of the day. The onset of pain relief from a stellate ganglion block can vary; some patients may experience immediate relief, while others may notice improvement over the following days. The duration of pain relief also varies, with some patients benefiting from weeks to months of reduced pain, and others may require repeat procedures for sustained relief.

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