Medial branch blocks are a diagnostic and therapeutic procedure used to identify and treat pain originating from the medial branch nerves that supply the facet joints of the spine. Medial branch blocks can be performed in various regions of the spine, including the lumbar (lower back), cervical (neck), and thoracic (mid-back) regions. Here’s an explanation of medial branch blocks:
- Purpose: Medial branch blocks help determine if the facet joints or their medial branch nerves are the source of pain. They provide temporary pain relief by numbing the nerves, aiding in the diagnosis and guiding further treatment.
- Procedure Overview: The patient is typically positioned lying face down or sitting upright, depending on the targeted region. The skin over the intended injection site is cleaned and numbed with a local anesthetic.
- Fluoroscopy or X-ray Guidance: To ensure accurate needle placement, the procedure is usually guided by either fluoroscopy (continuous X-ray imaging) or X-ray. This real-time imaging helps the physician visualize the targeted facet joints and the corresponding medial branch nerves.
- Needle Insertion: A thin needle is inserted near the medial branch nerve(s) that innervate the facet joint(s) causing pain. The needle is directed under guidance to the appropriate location.
- Nerve Block: Once the needle is correctly positioned, a small amount of local anesthetic (such as lidocaine) is injected near the medial branch nerve(s). This anesthetizes the nerves, temporarily blocking pain signals from being transmitted to the brain.
- Pain Response Evaluation: After the injection, the patient is observed for a short period to evaluate the pain response. If the pain is significantly reduced or eliminated, it suggests that the targeted facet joint(s) or medial branch nerve(s) are contributing to the pain.
- Diagnostic Significance: The pain response following the medial branch block helps determine if the facet joints or medial branch nerves are the pain source. If the block provides substantial pain relief, it suggests that the nerves supplying those specific facet joints are involved.
- Follow-up and Results: If the medial branch block provides significant pain relief, further treatment options can be considered, such as radiofrequency ablation. This procedure uses heat to disable the medial branch nerves, providing longer-lasting pain relief.