Human spine vertebrae anatomy

What Is a Medial Branch Block?

A medial branch block is a diagnostic procedure doctors use to pinpoint the origins of a patient’s pain. The specific goal of the procedure is to identify whether or not facet joint issues may be the cause of discomfort. Find out more about what the process entails and whether it could be right for you below.

What Is the Medial Branch?

The medial branch is a group of nerves that attach to the facet joints in the spine. These facet joints connect the vertebrae together. In many cases, back pain may originate in the medial branch, particularly if the facet joints are injured or diseased.

Because the back is such a complex network of these nerves, bones, and soft tissue, it’s often challenging to locate the precise origin of a patient’s pain. To identify whether the medial branch could be the source, doctors use a numbing agent or “block” to temporarily alleviate any discomfort that might stem from this area. This procedure has proven an effective method for diagnosing and treating facet joint back pain in some studies, and we’ve seen excellent results in our patients, too.

What Does a Medial Branch Block Entail?

If we suspect the facet joints could be the source of your discomfort, we offer a medial branch block to investigate. During this procedure, you’ll lie face-down on a table. One of our providers will administer a local anesthetic, which will numb the skin and tissues above the medial branch.

Next, they’ll place a thin needle into the area under the guidance of a video x-ray device known as a fluoroscope, which helps locate the medial branch nerves. A contrast dye is also injected to ensure the needle is in the proper position.

Once the needle is in place, the doctor will inject a numbing medicine into the nerves, creating a temporary numbing effect. If the medial branch nerves are indeed the source of your pain, you should feel immediate relief. In some cases the process may need to be repeated, as more than one level of the spine may need to be injected.

You’ll be monitored after your procedure, and you may be asked to keep track of your pain over several hours. If the block was successful, the doctor can recommend a procedure for more permanent relief.

A medial branch radiofrequency neurotomy is one such procedure. It permanently reduces or eliminates facet joint pain caused by osteoarthritis, as well as spine conditions resulting from traumatic injuries. Similar to a medial branch block, radiofrequency neurotomy is minimally invasive. But instead of using just an anesthetic to block pain, the doctor will also administer a small, controlled electrical current to create heat that kills the nerve, and eliminates its pain signals. Patients require very little downtime, and can usually resume their normal routine within a day or two.

If you’re experiencing lower back pain and are seeking lasting relief, allow our team to help. Explore our extensive range of state-of-the-art therapies online, or call (770) 929-9033 to schedule an appointment.