Procedure Information

Lumbar Sympathetic Block

Lumbar Sympathetic Block

OVERVIEW: A lumbar sympathetic block is an injection of local anesthetic into the back using X-ray guidance. With this procedure, we are blocking the sympathetic nerves to your leg. These nerves typically are not responsible for sensation, but they can be "turned on" in certain pain syndromes.

This procedure is typically ordered by your doctor for pain located in the buttocks and/or legs that is caused by sympathetically maintained pain, or complex regional pain syndrome, formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). It may also be ordered for nerve injury or post-herpetic neuralgia (herpes zoster, shingles). Lumbar sympathetic blocks are also used with circulation problems (e.g., vascular insufficiency) to see if blood flow can be improved.

Lumbar sympathetic blocks may have therapeutic or diagnostic value. One of two things will happen:

  • The pain does not go away, and there is evidence of a sympathetic block. The fact that the pain is unresponsive to sympathetic blocks is of diagnostic value.
  • The pain goes away after the injection and stays away longer than the life of the local anesthetic. This means the block was of therapeutic value.
  • This procedure will most likely have to be repeated to produce a long-lasting benefit. The spacing of injections will be based on how long the pain relief lasts between injections. Typically, you will experience a longer benefit following each subsequent injection. We also may decide to "destroy" the sympathetic ganglion using radiofrequency energy if you obtained excellent, but temporary, relief.

    Please note: This procedure cannot be performed if you have an active infection (and are on antibiotics), flu, fever, extremely high blood pressure, or if you are on blood thinners (e.g., aspirin, Coumadin, Plavix, Pletal, others). Blood thinners must be stopped five to seven days prior to the procedure. For your safety, please inform us if any of these conditions exists.

    RISKS / SIDE EFFECTS: The risks of the procedure, though rare, include allergic reaction to the medication used, hypotension (drop in blood pressure), weakness or numbness in legs (lasting the life of the local anesthetic, or approximately four to six hours), anesthetic toxicity, nerve damage, and hematoma (blood collection). In addition, patients may sometimes temporarily notice blood in their urine, as the needle passes near the kidneys. Last, it is expected that the leg on the side of the body where the injection site is located will experience a temperature increase that lasts the life of the local anesthetic.

    What happens during the procedure? After you check in and sign a consent form, your vital signs will be taken and an intravenous line will be started. You will be asked to change into a hospital gown. You also will be asked what your pain score is on a scale of 0 to 10. Then you will be taken into the procedure room. In the procedure room, our nursing staff will position you on your stomach on a narrow table. Your back will be cleaned with iodine and sterilely draped. One of our anesthesiologists will inject sedative medication into your I.V. so you will be comfortable during the procedure. The doctor will numb your skin with a small needle, which will sting just a bit. It is very important that you hold still and let us know if we are causing you discomfort. Using X-ray guidance, the needle is then advanced to the appropriate location. A dye may be injected at this point. Please let the doctor know if you have any allergies to dye. Once placement is confirmed by X-ray, a local anesthetic is injected through the needle, and the needle is then removed. Your skin will be cleaned and a Band-Aid applied. (The Band-Aid may be removed the next morning).

    What happens after the procedure? You will be taken to the recovery area and remain there for 15 to 30 minutes. As soon as you can walk without any weakness, you can be discharged. If you have any local tenderness from the needle, ice will help relieve this discomfort. You can also resume taking your normal pain medications.

    Will I have any restrictions after the procedure? An adult must be present to drive you home or to escort you on another form of transportation, and you are not allowed to drive for the remainder of the day. This is for your own safety. In addition, do not go swimming or soak in a tub or Jacuzzi on the day of the procedure. Otherwise, you may do whatever you feel up to doing.

    You should call us immediately at 409-892-4600 if you experience any of the following:

  • Severe back pain that is not relieved with medication and ice
  • Prolonged, new numbness or weakness of your legs
  • Loss of control of your bladder or bowels
  • Signs of infection in the area of injection (redness, drainage, elevated temperature).
  • Things to Do Before the Procedure

  • You may not eat or drink anything for the 8 – 12 hours before the procedure.
  • Take all of your medications as scheduled on the day of the procedure, unless directed otherwise.
  • Think of any questions for us and write them down.
  • Make the nurses and doctors aware of any new changes in your medical condition.
  • HOLD ANY BLOOD THINNERS (e.g., aspirin, Coumadin, Plavix, Pletal, others) or anti-inflammatories.
  • Please remember to arrange for an adult to drive you home.
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