Sympathetic Nerve Block: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

The spinal cord

A sympathetic nerve block is an injection of medicine into your neck or back to help chronic pain.

Sympathetic nerves spread out from your spine. They control some of the body functions you have no control over, like blood flow and digestion. They also carry pain signals. When this system isn't working right, such as after an injury, you can have chronic pain.

These nerves come together in groups called ganglions throughout your body. This is where these nerve blocks are done.

If the nerve block was in your neck, the numbing medicine might affect your face for a few hours. You may have a droopy eyelid, a stuffy nose, a red eye, or redness in the face. You may also have some trouble swallowing. Follow your doctor's instructions about eating and drinking for the next few hours.

If the nerve block was in your back, you may feel some warmth and redness in your leg or foot.

This type of nerve block doesn't always work. If it does work, you may feel pain relief right away. Sometimes the pain returns after the anesthetic medicine wears off.

If your nerve block included a steroid, it may take a few days to relieve the pain.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to feel better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • You may want to do less than normal for a few days. Or you may be able to return to your daily routine.
  • You may shower if your doctor okays it.
  • Do not take a bath for the first 24 hours, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you normally take a blood thinner, be sure to get instructions about when to start taking it again.

Ice

  • If the site of your injection feels sore or tender, put ice or a cold pack on it for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You are unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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