Located at the level of the 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae (the last vertebra of the neck) is a collection of sympathetic nerves known as the stellate ganglion. This star-like nerve cluster is found in front of the vertebrae and on either side of the voice box. As part of the sympathetic nervous system, this bundle of nerve fibers is responsible for relaying sympathetic nerve signals between the brain and your body’s upper extremities (arms, hands, neck, face and chest).
What is the Sympathetic Nervous System?
The sympathetic nervous system is involved in the stimulation of bodily responses during times of stress or danger. For instance, say you’re casually hiking along a trail when suddenly a bear appears up ahead of you. In response to this stressful situation, your body begins to change in order to prepare itself for the impending “fight or flight”. Your blood pressure rises as blood flow to all essential tissues is increased, the heart begins to beat faster and digestion slows. These physiological changes are designed to give you an advantage for survival during times of emergency or threat. This bodily response is often referred to as an “adrenaline rush”, and functions to help the body perform at optimal levels during these type of events.
Abnormal Function of Sympathetic Nerves
Sympathetic nerve impulses are also responsible for the constriction of peripheral blood vessels (the veins and arteries in our arms and legs). Sometimes, due to injury or some other bodily trauma, a sympathetic nerve can be unnecessarily stimulated. When this occurs, the affected sympathetic nerve can cause the blood vessels in the arm or leg to remain constricted for too long, resulting in poor circulation to that limb. This can cause a number of symptoms in the affected extremity, including pain and swelling, along with change in skin color or temperature.
What is a Stellate Ganglion Block?
A stellate ganglion block, also referred to as a sympathetic block, is an injection of local anesthetic into the front of the neck, targeting the region where the stellate ganglion lies. This injection can be done as a therapeutic treatment to relieve pain symptoms, or as a diagnostic procedure to identify the source of the patient’s pain.
This treatment works by anesthetizing/blocking the sympathetic nerves that go to the arms, and, to some degree, the sympathetic nerves that supply the face. A stellate ganglion block can help reduce pain, swelling, sweating and color changes of the affected upper extremity. It may also improve mobility.
This procedure can be performed to help manage pain in the arms, chest, neck or head caused by nerve injuries. Other conditions that a sympathetic block may be used for include:
- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)
- Shingles and Post Herpetic Neuralgia
- Phantom Limb Pain
- Circulation problems in upper extremities
- Neuropathic pain syndrome
- Intractable Angina
- Excessive perspiration of the upper extremities (Hyperhidrosis)
- Hot Flashes
- Raynaud’s phenomenon
At the Diagnostic Pain Center in Austin, Dr. Robert S. Marks and Dr. Sauman A. Rafii perform stellate ganglion blocks in both the diagnosis and treatment of pain originating from the sympathetic nerves. Typically, a series of these injections is ideal for optimal pain management. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, there’s no need to suffer another day. Contact the Diagnostic Pain Center to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific symptoms. Dr. Marks or Dr. Rafii will create an individualized treatment plan customized to meet your needs and target the problem at its source.
Call us today at (512) 981-7246 to learn more about stellate ganglion block treatment in Austin, or click the button below to get started.