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How Long Does a Nerve Block Last for Back Pain?

Feb 01, 2024
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How Long Does a Nerve Block Last for Back Pain?

Lower back pain (LBP) is one of the most common complaints at orthopedic and pain management offices — about 4 out of 5 people (80%) develop it at some point in their lives.

Back pain can be caused by any number of different conditions, some of which are related to the spine and its structures (arthritis, spinal stenosis, nerve root compression, herniated disc) and some to other tissues (muscle strains, ligament sprains, and tendon ruptures). Whatever the cause, though, you’re probably desperate for relief.

At Interventional Pain Center, interventional pain medicine physician Dr. James Stephens and our team see a lot of back pain patients and offer many different treatment options depending on the underlying cause of the pain. One of these treatments is a nerve block. 

Here, we explain the procedure and how long it can last.

The line of the spine

Your spine extends from the base of your skull down to your tailbone. It’s divided into three sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), and lumbar (lower back). The main components of the spine in those sections are the vertebrae, 24 interlocking bones that connect to those above and below by two small facet joints.

Between your vertebrae, you have intervertebral discs, round rigid shells containing a viscous gel that absorb the shock of movement and allow you to bend, twist, and turn. 

If the shell ruptures due to injury, the inner material can ooze out and put pressure on the delicate spinal nerve roots in the spinal canal, causing pain that travels down the entire length of the nerve.

As you age, the discs tend to dehydrate and flatten out, a condition known as degenerative disc disease. The extruding discs can compress nearby spinal nerve roots, or the loss of disc volume may allow the vertebrae to rub against each other, causing friction, inflammation, and pain.

What is a nerve block?

You may be able to relieve your LBP with a combination of anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. However, if these don’t provide sufficient relief, Dr. Stephens may opt for a nerve block.

A nerve block is the injection of an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medication at the site where the nerve or group of nerves is compressed or otherwise compromised. Dr. Stephens uses it in several ways:

Therapeutic nerve blocks

These treat painful conditions when Dr. Stephens knows which nerve(s) to target. The injections contain a local anesthetic to control acute pain.

Diagnostic nerve blocks

Dr. Stephens uses these when he wants to determine the particular nerve that’s causing you pain. These blocks contain an anesthetic with a known duration of relief. He targets the nerve he believes is causing the pain, but if the anesthetic doesn’t work, he knows that another nerve or something else is responsible for it.

Prognostic nerve blocks

These predict the outcomes of given treatments. Dr. Stephens may use a nerve block to determine if a more permanent treatment (e.g., surgery) would be successful at relieving your pain.

Preemptive nerve blocks

These blocks prevent subsequent pain from a procedure that causes known problems, including phantom limb pain.

How long a nerve block lasts depends on the type of block performed, the anesthetic, and your unique physiology. It may be days, weeks, months, or even years until the block wears off, or you may not experience any relief at all. If you don’t, Dr. Stephens progresses to other treatment options.

If the strain of back pain is getting too much to bear, and if you’re in the Norman, Oklahoma, area, your next stop should be Interventional Pain Center. Call us at 405-759-8407 to schedule an evaluation with Dr. Stephens,  or use our online booking tool today.