The word "pain" is used as a generic description for discomfort, but it actually is as individual as the person feeling it. Some forms of pain can come on fairly suddenly, like a migraine headache, while others may be chronic and persistent, like back pain. The commonality they share is that each can be treated uniquely and source-specifically.
One such method of treating pain is through the use of selective nerve-root blocks. Often, the source of pain stems from inflammation around a nerve, which creates pressure on the nerve. The greater the pressure, the greater the pain may be. Pain caused by nerve inflammation is often found in the back, neck, legs, head and face. Locating the nerve causing the pain and the specific location along the nerve that is causing the problem allows physicians to target treatment and alleviate the discomfort.
"When we can identify the exact spot of the pain, we can administer treatment with greater accuracy, achieve better results, and allow the patient to resume normal activity sooner," says Dr. Eric Lonseth, medical director of the East Jefferson General Hospital Pain Management Center.
A nerve block is an injection of medicine designed to give a patient both short-term and long-term pain relief by combining a local anesthetic with a steroid. The local anesthetic provides more instant relief, which can last from four to six hours or sometimes as long as a day or two. The steroid takes longer to absorb into the body, but its effects can be felt three to four days after it is injected and may offer pain relief for several months.
Since the selective nerve-root block allows the medication to be injected at the single point of the pain, the medicine is localized to that area, providing maximum pain relief. In contrast, an epidural could be used similarly to treat nerve pain, but it spreads the medicine over a wider area. An epidural is best suited when the exact pain source cannot be located or when multiple nerves are affected.
Physicians use various methods to determine the location of nerve pain. One way is through the principles of anatomy and the knowledge of where an affected nerve is as in relation to the bones. A physician also can stimulate the nerve with electricity to trigger the specific source of the pain. In addition, a physician can inject dye into the body so the nerve can be visualized through fluoroscopy, .
NN"I put the symptoms, imaging studies and examination all together to make an accurate diagnosis," Lonseth says. "Pain associated with nerves can affect anyone at any age, but our capabilities have advanced so that everyone can benefit. Your pain is unique to you, and the treatment equally unique so that it gives the maximum amount of pain relief."