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Intercostal Nerve Blocks

Relieve Chest Pain in Colorado

When standard medication fails to treat your chest pain, you may want to discuss an intercostal nerve block with your doctor. These blocks cut off pain signals in the chest so that you can stop feeling pain while you recover from inflamed tissues in the ribs.

What are the intercostal nerves?

The intercostal nerves are located underneath each rib on both sides of the body. When one of these nerves, or tissue around the nerve, become irritated or inflamed, it causes pain.

The intercostal nerve block involves injection of a corticosteroid agent, which reduces inflammation and swelling of tissue around the intercostal nerves. This reduces pain and other symptoms of intercostal nerve irritation.

What conditions are treated using the intercostal nerve block?

The intercostal nerve block can be used for:

  • Herpes zoster (shingles)
  • Surgical incision pain
  • Rib fractures
  • Chest wall trauma
  • Diagnosing the source of chest wall pain

How is the intercostal nerve block done?

The doctor will first give you a sedative intravenously to relax you. You will be positioned on your side, with the painful side upward. The nurse will clean the skin over the ribs using an antiseptic. A small needle is used to numb the skin using an anesthetic. The procedure needle is inserted into the chest region using ultrasound or x-ray guidance. Once the needle position is confirmed, the medication is injected. After this, the site is covered with a bandage.

How effective is the intercostal nerve block?

Many patients report immediate pain relief after the injection. However, the pain can return within a few hours when the anesthetic wears off. Once the steroidal agent starts to work in 48-76 hours, long-term pain relief is achieved. The duration of pain relief varies from person-to-person. For some patients, pain relief lasts weeks, and for others it lasts several months.

What can I expect after the intercostal nerve block procedure?

A nurse will monitor you in the recovery area for around an hour. Expect some soreness at the needle insertion site. You are not permitted to drive or do rigorous activities for 24 hours after the intercostal nerve block. We recommend you rest the remainder of the day, and gradually return to usual activities. You can resume your usual diet and medication schedule right after the block.

Does the intercostal nerve block hurt?

Because an anesthetic is used to numb the skin and deeper tissues, you will not feel much pain. You may feel a pinching sensation when the anesthetic goes into the skin. Also, a mild sedative is given, so most patients have slight memory of the procedure.

Does the intercostal nerve block procedure actually work?

In a recent study, researchers analyzed the medical records of patients who received the intercostal nerve block and compared the pain control to people who took oral medications. The researchers found that the block offered dramatic pain reduction for people with rib fractures.