A stellate ganglion block is an anesthetic neck injection administered into the front of the neck to treat pain. The injection causes temporary nerve numbness and can prevent pain from being felt for weeks or months afterward. A stellate ganglion block can be used to treat pain caused by nerve injury and nervous system disorders, as well as viral diseases such as shingles. This procedure cannot be performed on someone who has an infection or someone who has high blood pressure or is taking blood thinners.
A ganglion is a nerve junction where multiple nerves come together and then fan out to different locations in the body. When the ganglion is star-shaped, it is called a stellate ganglion. In the neck, the stellate ganglion is a bundle of nerves that feed the sympathetic nervous system, which controls automatic bodily processes such as heart rate, blood pressure and sweating. Pain caused by dysfunction of sympathetic nerves is called sympathetic nerve pain, and it is characterized by its constancy; it might sometimes grow more or less severe, but the pain is almost always there. For some people, the severity of the pain might change depending on the climate.
Blocking a stellate ganglion by administering a local anesthetic can temporarily ease the pain caused by the dysfunctional nerves. Although a stellate ganglion block injection is always administered in the front of the neck, it can be used to treat pain in the head, neck, arm and chest. This is because the stellate ganglion in the neck feeds nerves in all of these other locations.
During the stellate ganglion block procedure, an intravenous line is inserted into the front of the neck, which means that the patient must lie on his or her back. The procedure can be slightly uncomfortable, as the doctor administering the injection must press firmly on the neck to locate the best spot to insert the needle. Once the needle is inserted correctly, a local anesthetic is injected into the intravenous line, after which the needle is removed. This part of the procedure usually takes no more than 10 minutes.
For the next 30 minutes or so, the patient will be monitored to evaluate the effect of the anesthetic and ensure that he or she suffers no adverse reactions to the anesthetic. The patient might be asked to change positions, depending on where their pain is located. For example, if the pain is in the arm or chest, the patient might be asked to sit up, to allow the anesthetic to take effect more quickly.
The stellate ganglion block procedure is fast and relatively simple, but there are some side effects, risks and complications. Expected side effects include temporary numbness of the arm, eyelid drooping and a bloodshot eye. All of these effects develop on the side of the body that received the injection. Risks and complications include seizure from injection of the anesthetic into a blood vessel, a collapsed lung, allergy and temporary numbness of additional nerves.