Managing Pain Without Opioids
Chronic pain can be debilitating. For years, many people relied on opioid prescriptions for pain relief. But opioids come with a range of challenging side effects, not to mention the epidemic of addiction that has swept the country. Thankfully, there are opioid alternatives that work. For some people, nerve blocks may be the solution.
What is a nerve block?
A nerve block involves injecting a specific area of the body with pain medication. Typically, the injection is given around a particular nerve or nerve bundle that’s causing pain. The medicine prevents pain signals of that nerve bundle from reaching the brain and causing feelings of discomfort.
Who is a good candidate for a nerve block?
Nerve blocks can be a valuable solution for people with arthritis pain, low back pain, sciatica, or pain related to surgery such as a joint replacement. Nerve blocks may also be a treatment for herniated discs or even lesser-known conditions, such as excessive sweating. People who are on blood thinners may need to stop taking blood-thinning medication before having a nerve block.
What happens during a nerve block?
Nerve blocks are outpatient treatments, meaning the patient can return home the same day. First, the healthcare provider cleans the area around the injection site. Then patients receive a local anesthetic or numbing medication. Then the healthcare provider uses a needle to distribute pain medication to the right area. Usually, the entire process only takes around 30 minutes.
What is the recovery time?
The treated area may remain numb for up to 24 hours or so. Many people feel some soreness for a day or so. While some people may feel pain relief after the first injection, many patients need multiple injections to experience a long-term decrease in pain.
What else can I do?
Usually, nerve blocks are combined with other pain management techniques for the best results. For example, patients may also participate in physical therapy to strengthen and stretch affected muscles. Many people find that nerve blocks make progressing in physical therapy a bit easier.
Is a nerve block a permanent option?
Most people need more than one nerve block to experience pain relief. Patients who want more permanent relief may consider other options, such as spinal cord stimulators. These stimulators are implantable devices that interfere with pain signals to block pain. Usually, these more invasive or surgical treatment options are reserved for when patients have tried multiple nonsurgical treatment options without success. For more information about nerve blocks and other pain management options, speak with a healthcare provider.