What is a sciatic nerve block?

A sciatic nerve block may be administered to diagnose and treat a trapped sciatic nerve.

A sciatic nerve block is an injection given by a medical professional, usually as part of a larger medical procedure, that is designed to temporarily block chemical transmissions and relays related to the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest in the body; starts at the spine and branches down to both legs. People who have problems anywhere along this nerve pathway often experience a lot of pain, as well as difficulty doing things like stretching in certain ways, walking, and running. A nerve block temporarily relieves pain by reducing or completely blunting the synapses triggered by the nerve. Its effects usually last for several weeks at a time. They are also commonly used as a means of diagnosing certain conditions, or as a way to block pain during procedures such as knee surgery that involve regions that the sciatic nerve passes through. The procedure itself can be tricky to perform, but it’s usually not very invasive. Patients usually recover very quickly and the risk of side effects is usually low.

Understanding the sciatic nerve

An MRI may be performed to diagnose sciatic nerve pain.

The sciatic nerve is the largest in the human body, starting at the lower spinal cord and branching out to extend beyond the knees into the legs. Pain in the back of the thigh and other parts of the sciatic nerve pathway can be the result of irritation of the sciatic nerve and is commonly called sciatica. A doctor can diagnose the condition by looking at the patient’s symptoms and testing the patient’s nerve function. X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also help with the diagnosis. In most cases, blocks are an important part of pain management and diagnosis.

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the block itself

A sciatic nerve block may be given during foot surgery.

A trapped sciatic nerve can cause pain radiating down the buttocks and back of the legs to the feet. The blocking injection usually contains an anesthetic and a steroid, the former to deal with the discomfort of the injection itself and the latter to actually treat the condition. Like all nerve blocks, a sciatic block works by preventing the nerve from sending pain messages to the brain. It is important to note here that the injection does not actually cure the problem. The underlying problem with the nerve, whether it is pinched, trapped, or inflamed, remains, but the patient no longer suffers from it.

Relief for trapped nerves

The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back.

People who suffer from chronic sciatica are often good candidates for nerve block therapy. In these cases, the block is routinely administered, perhaps once a month or once a quarter, depending on the intensity of the pain. It’s usually best for injections to be just one part of a larger therapy plan, and in most cases they’re used as a sort of “last resort” – they’re a somewhat serious solution, and they can also be quite expensive. Typically, they are only recommended in cases where nothing else is working.

Other diagnostic and surgical uses

If the sciatic nerve becomes irritated, it can cause leg pain and numbness.

A sciatic nerve block can also be used as a diagnostic tool. It is usually given once and if the pain disappears soon after, the diagnosis of sciatica is assumed to be correct. The procedure can also reduce pain in other situations. Doctors often use a temporary nerve block when performing knee or foot surgery, for example. It is considered a beneficial procedure because it limits the need for other pain relievers, such as morphine, during and after surgery.

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Recovery and related risks

Sciatic nerve block usually has a short recovery period and is less invasive than most surgeries. However, it remains similar to other medical procedures as it also has risk factors and potential for complications. This includes infection, an allergic reaction, and the possibility of increased pain if the nerve block is not successful.

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