Everything you need to know about nerve blocks

A “nerve block” is the injection of a numbing agent (called a “local anesthetic” onto a specific nerve or group of nerves.  It is akin to a dentist’s numbing a tooth.  In simple words, medicine numbs the nerves by “putting them to sleep” so as to temporarily stop or lessen the pain. 

Nerve blocks can be used to determine the source of pain, predict outcomes of certain treatments, or avoid surgery.  However, the most common reason for using nerve blocks is pain relief, therefore it is widely used by pain specialists, including Gainesville pain management doctors. Areas where the injection is performed mostly include the neck and low back.


How do nerve blocks work?

Nerves follow predictable paths in the body.  A physician, using his knowledge of anatomy and the guidance of an x-ray machine or ultrasound machine, will direct a small needle toward the proper anatomic location. Once there, the physician will inject the numbing agent.  Depending on the drug chosen, the numbness typically lasts 1-4 hours.  

The injection will be made as close as possible to the nerve that is believed to transmit pain. The medication that is injected shuts down the nerve receptors (called sodium channels) in the nerve, and thus prohibits the nerve from being able to transmit the pain signal to the brain.  The result is that the pain goes away.

The medication usually works within a few minutes after the injection, and pain relief is achieved. However, nerve blocks are not a long-term solution. With good relief from the blocks (letting you know that the source of pain has been correctly identified), a procedure to provide longer term relief will be offered.  This procedure will ablate or “burn” the nerves to provide months of relief.  This is generally done with heat, but may involve chemicals.  While the idea of burning a nerve sounds scary, it is not.  Properly performed, these procedures do not negatively affect walking, skin sensation, or bodily functions.

How do you prepare for a nerve block? 

The following tips can help improve your outcome and prevent complications:

  • During your initial consultation, you will be asked about your medical history, which includes your allergies, medicines, past illness, past treatments, and current medical condition. Answer your doctor’s questions truthfully. You may also list them down and present them to your doctor, together with your medical documents.
  • You will be given instructions about what to do before the procedure. This may include some changes in physical activity, diet, and lifestyle. Your doctor may also ask you to stop taking some medications (particularly blood thinners) or take new ones.
  • For your safety, arrange for someone’s help to drive you home after the procedure.

You can ask your doctor questions to help ease your anxiety. Knowing what to expect during and after the procedure can help you become mentally and emotionally prepared for the outcome.

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What to expect during a nerve block injection?

This procedure usually takes only a few minutes to be performed. You may feel a minor pinch or discomfort when the needle is inserted – as you would expect to get from any other injection. It is important, though, to stay still and calm, so the injection is performed properly.  Relaxed muscle also allows the procedure to be completed more quickly.

What can I expect after a nerve block injection?

After the injection, the pain should dramatically improve. Typically, your doctor will expect >50% relief for a few hours.  After the numbing medication wears off, you may feel some degree of soreness or discomfort at the injection site. This is completely normal and will gradually disappear within a few days.

What to do after a nerve block?

Please pre-arrange your ride home after a nerve block. You may ask for the assistance or help of a friend or a loved one to drive you home.

The length of recovery differs in every patient, but here are some reminders that can help you recover as quickly and safely as possible:

  • After the numbing medication wears off, put an ice pack on the injection site for 15 minutes at a time to help relieve soreness and tenderness. Wrap the ice with a towel and avoid putting the ice directly on the skin.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced meal.
  • If you were taking a blood thinner, ask your doctor when and if it’s safe to take it again.
  • Take the medicines prescribed by your doctor.
  • Visit the clinic for follow-up as scheduled.

Watch out for unexpected signs and symptoms. Call your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Worsening pain
  • Numbness and tingling sensation
  • Body weakness
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Any sign of infection (redness, localized pain, swelling, and heat)

What are the limitations of a nerve block injection?

Nerve blocks, which only use a numbing medication, do not provide a long-term solution for the problem. 

There is always a risk, albeit very small, of nerve damage during the procedure. Fortunately, skilled doctors know how to perform procedures like this, and nerve damage is highly unlikely.


When is a nerve block used for pain management in Gainesville?

Nerve blocks are most commonly used to improve chronicl pain. If you have one of the below conditions, you should refer to a pain management doctor:

  • cancer-related pain
  • arthritis (which can cause pain in any joint in the body)
  • complex regional pain syndrome
  • phantom pain after an amputation

Questions to ask your doctor before getting a nerve block

Knowing the answers to your nagging questions can help relieve anxiety and stress. Here is a list of questions you may ask your doctor during your consultation:


  • How can a nerve block help improve my condition?
  • How long will the procedure take?
  • What do I need to do to prepare for the procedure?
  • When can I return home?
  • What activity restrictions will I have after?
  • When can I return to my normal activities and routine?
  • What are the possible side effects and complications of this procedure? How often do you encounter them?
  • When can I continue taking my regular medications?
  • How many sessions will I need?
  • How much will the treatment cost? Will my insurance cover it?
  • How often should I go back for a follow-up?
  • If there is any complication, whom should I contact?

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Is a nerve block the same as an epidural steroid injection? 

Nerve block and epidural steroid injections are treatments that address spine-related pain. However, they differ in many ways.

Nerve blocks Epidural steroid injection
Site of injection
  • Anywhere along the spine
  • Epidural space
  • Anesthetic agent
  • Steroids and local anesthetic
  • Numb nerves
  • Block pain signals
  • Diagnose the source of pain
  • Relieve pain
  • Reduce inflammation in the nerve roots
  • Reduce the inflammation in the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord
  • Numb the nerves to block pain signals from reaching the brain.
  • Reduce pain signals by decreasing the production of inflammatory chemicals that irritate the nerves
  • Diminish swelling associated with herniated discs
  • Usually twice and, if successful, followed by a nerve “burn” called radiofrequency ablation
  • As needed, but generally no more than 2-4 times per year

Chronic pain is very limiting and can disrupt the quality of a patient’s life. At our clinic, we make sure that our patients get the right treatment that is tailor-fit to their health needs, so that they can enjoy a pain-free life. During your consultation, our doctor will discuss the pain relief treatment options that are available, effective, and safe for your condition, so that you can make an informed decision.

Learn more about Advanced Pain Medical Center

At Advanced Pain Medical Center, we offer innovative management and treatment for pain. We use individualized treatment plans to ensure that we are treating the cause of your pain rather than just the symptoms. Our services include:

Your first step on the way against pain is scheduling an appointment with pain management doctors in Gainesville and finding out the individual treatment options we offer. Schedule an appointment today and let us provide you with our customized care.

“The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.”

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