Both epidurals and selective spinal nerve blocks may be used to manage pain or make an accurate diagnosis of nerves and discs causing pain in the spine and extremities. Nerve blocks and epidurals may be used to diagnose and treat conditions like spinal stenosis, spinal arthritis, herniated discs and bone spurs.
Anesthesiologists use the two types of outpatient injections to administer numbing agents and/or steroid medications into the cervical and lumbar spinal areas. Numbing agents temporarily anesthetize a nerve (or nerves) to help doctors make an accurate diagnosis of which nerves are causing chronic pain. Steroids act as a slow-release anti-inflammatory, which reduce nerve irritation and provide long-term pain relief.
Although selective spinal nerve blocks and epidurals are each used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, their differences lie in the manner in which they are delivered. Generally, selective spinal nerve blocks are used to target a very specific nerve site, whereas epidurals affect a wider area.
Selective Spinal Nerve Blocks
A selective spinal nerve block, which may also be referred to as a selective nerve root block (SNRB), is an injection of anti-inflammatory or numbing medication directly into a specific nerve. Prior to the injection, a local anesthetic is used to numb the skin to reduce discomfort during the procedure. A needle is then carefully guided to the selected nerve root where the medication is to be administered.
An epidural injection uses a thin needle to penetrate the membrane that cushions the outside of the spinal cord, known as the dura. Like SNRB injections, epidurals are usually delivered with a local anesthetic for palliative purposes during the procedure. Epidural injections are often used to treat pain and irritation that results from spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the canal in which the nerves travel through thespine. Following a therapeutic epidural injection, patients may experience significant pain relief in as little as one day.
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