Medial Branch Block
What are medial branch nerves? The facet joints are embedded with tiny nerves, known as medial branch nerves, that are responsible for transmitting pain impulses from the facet joints to the brain.
So, what are facet joints? The vertebrae in the spine contain tiny pairs of facet joints between each segment. These facet joints give the spine stability and allow it to bend and twist.
A medial branch block is an injection used to block pain signals sent from the medial branch nerves that nourish the facet joints of the spine. It’s also used to determine if the facet joint is the cause of back pain.
In some cases, a facet block may be used in place or in addition to a medial branch block. A facet block is when local anesthetic and steroid are injected into a spinal joint. This is similar to a medial branch block, however the anesthetic is planted on the outer facet joint space, close to the medial nerve feeding it the pain signal.
How is a Medial Branch Block Used?
The medial branch block can be employed on its own to relieve pain over the long-term without the need for surgery. If the discomfort is not alleviated after the injection, then the pain management specialist can safely conclude that the joint isn’t the source of your pain.
How is a Medial Branch Block Performed?
The procedure requires the patient to lay flat on their stomach. A small amount of local anesthetic is used to numb the skin.
Using advanced X-ray guidance (known as fluoroscopy), the doctor will inject a tiny amount of dye to make sure that the medication envelopes all the affected medial branch nerves. Afterward, a strong anesthetic is slowly injected into each pinpointed nerve to provide pain relief.
Medial branch blocks are normally conducted as an outpatient procedure and patients are free to return home after a brief recovery period.
Risks of a Medial Branch Block
Medial branch blocks generally carry a low risk, with complications being rare. However, as is the case with invasive medical treatments, potential risks and complications do exist and are may include:
- An allergic reaction to the medication or dye employed
- Bleeding (more of a risk for patients possessing latent bleeding disorders)
- Damage to the nerve
Results of a Medial Branch Block
Medial branch blocks have generally produced favorable results. Immediate benefits can normally be seen within minutes after completion of the procedure.
Physical Therapists will continue to monitor patient progress and will follow up the the Pain Management Physician to evaluate efficacy of the procedure.