Selective Nerve Blocks
(Cervical and Lumbar)

Selective nerve root blocks are similar to epidurals. Instead of putting medication in to cover all of the nerve roots, selective blocks are done so as to cover just one or two nerve roots. They involve injecting medication to numb just one or two of the spinal nerves.

There are two types of selective nerve root blocks: diagnostic and therapeutic. When one does a diagnostic block, just enough medication is placed to numb exactly one root. By doing this, the doctor can determine if the nerve root is causing the pain. Therapeutic blocks involve more medication and different medication.

Nerve roots are attached to the spinal cord. One exits each side of the spine at every vertebral level. These nerves carry signals throughout the body from the skin to the muscles. When one of the nerve roots is irritated, patients may experience pain, numbness, tingling, and sometimes weakness down an arm or a leg. A diagnostic selective block can be used to prove that a pinched nerve is the problem.

The blocks get rid of arm or leg pain about half of the time. They are not used for midline back pain.

Where will the medicine be injected?

A selective nerve root block may be performed in any area of the spine. The neck and low back are injected most commonly.

Most people describe the procedure as only a little uncomfortable. Sedation is given before the block and the skin is numbed as well.

How long will it take?

Just as for an epidural, you can expect to be in the surgery center for about one to two hours. The nurses will place an intravenous catheter in your vein, and attach monitors to check your heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels. The procedure takes 10 to 15 minutes.

You may have some numbness for a short while after the block. You will be discharged when you can safely walk.

Are there any restrictions afterward?

You may not drive yourself home. The medicines used for sedation cause drowsiness. You may eat, drink, and move normally but do not do heavy lifting or excessive bending, twisting, pushing, or pulling for at least a few days.

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Last modified: 07/27/08