The Vault

Spine Center of Texas answers the most common questions about stellate ganglion blocks:

What exactly is a stellate ganglion block? 

Stellate ganglion block or sympathetic block is a local anaesthetic injection in the front of the neck. It relieves pain in the head, neck, chest, or arm due to reflex sympathetic dystrophy (sympathetically maintained pain) , causalgia (nerve injury), herpes zoster (shingles), or intractable angina. This procedure can also be used to see if a patient’s blood flow has improved after Raynaud’s or CREST treatment. Stellate ganglion blocks can be either therapeutic or diagnostic, and is usually repeated to achieve longer lasting effects. Remember that if you have an active infection, such as flu, cold, uncontrolled cough, fever, very high blood pressure, or if you are on blood thinners, this procedure is not advisable.

What are the risks?

Risks -however rare – include seizure, collapsed lung, numb arms lasting for hours, temporary weakness or numbness from neck down, nerve damage, and bruising at the injection sire. Some changes can be expected as a result of blocking the sympathetic nerves, such as droopy eyelid, bloodshot eyes, a stuffy nose, and a temperature increase on the injected site.

Will it hurt?

There may be light discomfort, since the doctor needs to press on your neck to locate the injection site. It uses a very small needle. The anesthetic may sting or burn as it goes in.

What is the actual procedure like?

The procedure usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete. The IV will start after you sign a consent form and after you have had your blood pressure checked. Skin temperature monitors will be placed on both of your hands. The Stellate ganglion blocks procedure is usually done with the patient lying on his back with a sheet rolled up between his shoulder blades. After the neck is cleansed, the doctor will press on the neck to determine the right injection site. Local anaesthetic is then put through the needle. It may take 10 to 20 minutes for the medicine to take full effect.

How will I feel after the procedure?

After the injection, your neck may feel tender or bruised. You may also notice a bit of unbalance. If your arms become numb or heavy, you may use a sling until the feeling passes – usually around 4 to 6 hours. Pain medications may also be prescribed.

Are there any restrictions on the day of the procedure?

After the procedure, you will be advised not to drive or operate heavy machinery.

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