What’s Causing That Bad Back?

Back pain is so common; many accept pain as a normal part of life. However, the pain is often a result of an underlying condition. If left untreated, back pain can cause severe damage and reduce the quality of life. Diagnosing the problem the first step. Often, back pain could be spinal-related. A medial branch block can help doctors pinpoint the specific cause.

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Small but painful joints and nerves

The spine consists of bones called vertebrae that connect to form the spinal column. These bones protect the spinal cord. Between the vertebrae are facet joints that allow movement. Facet joints have small nerves that send signals to the brain. If the facet joints are damaged or degrade due to arthritis, the medial nerves respond with pain signals. Facet joint damage is just one of many spinal related issues, and a medial branch block can confirm the issue.

How medial branch blocks work

A medial branch block works in two ways. The initial objective is to confirm if the facet joints in the painful part of the back are indeed the cause. As a side effect, the branch block can relieve pain, if only for a short period. The branch block is an injection of medication in the nerves on the facet joints. The injection stops pain signals from going to the brain, hence stopping the pain. The medial branch block is not an outright treatment. The injection is an indicator that the patient needs more treatment, like surgery.

The branch block process

To complete the process, the patient lays face down with the back exposed. The doctor uses a series of 3 injections to complete the branch block. First, the doctor injects a numbing agent for the surrounding area. The second injection is a contact solution. The contact solution makes the nerves on the affected joint visible via x-ray. With an x-ray view of the nerves on the facet joint, the doctor gives the final shot. This is cortisone that goes around the nerve. This injection stops the nerves from communicating with the brain. Branch blocks are quick outpatient procedures but are the start of a long monitoring process.

No luck on this block

After the medial branch block, the patient gauges the pain in the area. If pain is relieved, then comes back, the doctor confirms that the facet joint nerves are the cause of back pain. The patient may need follow-up surgery to reduce the pain once and for all. There are occasions where the branch block does not work. That means the facet joints and nerves are not the cause of the pain.

So what’s next?

The doctor needs to do additional tests to find the root cause of the pain. Tests include MRIs, bone scans, or nerve tests. There could be an underlying nerve condition, an issue with discs, or spinal stenosis. In the interim, the patient can still use medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes to manage pain.

Consider a medial branch block

A medial branch block is an effective method of determining if the facet joint nerves are at fault for pain. The injections can also give temporary relief if the issue is indeed nerve-related. If a branch block does not work, there is another issue causing back pain. Doctors can try further tests for a proper diagnosis. Speak with a doctor about the possibility of a medial branch block today.

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