Florida Pain Medicine is a rotation site and teaching facility for USF Health ACGME Pain Medicine Fellowship and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency.

How a Root Block Works to Relieve Pain in Your Limbs

If there’s one thing we know — and that our patients have learned from experience — it’s that conventional medical care for chronic limb pain seldom provides enough pain relief.

By comparison, the procedures available from the interventional medicine specialists here at Florida Pain Medicine are extremely effective because they get to the underlying cause of your pain — the nerves carrying pain messages to your brain. Here’s how a root block can relieve limb pain.  

Let’s talk about nerve roots.

Nerve roots form a unique part of your nervous system, but before getting to nerve roots, let’s start at the top. Your spinal cord begins at your brain and goes down the length of your spine, where it’s protected by bony vertebrae that form the spinal canal.

The spinal cord bundles together all the nerves carrying incoming and outgoing messages between your brain and the rest of your body. To deliver these messages or nerve signals, the nerves have to get in and out of the spinal canal. To make that happen, each vertebra has four openings, two on each side, that allow nerves to enter and exit the spine.

At every vertebra, two groups of motor nerves leave the spine, and two groups of sensory nerves return to the spine. After motor nerves exit, they branch out and carry messages from your brain throughout the region of your body near the vertebra.

The same thing goes in reverse with sensory nerves. The numerous branches of sensory nerves that collect information about pain throughout that area of your body, come together in two bundles as they enter the spine and carry messages to your brain.

So now we’re finally at the nerve roots. The four small bundles of incoming and outgoing nerves at each vertebra are called nerve roots.

Here’s how a root block relieves your pain.

You feel pain when sensory nerves pick up changes in your body that signal pain. Then that signal becomes a nerve impulse that travels along the nerve, through the nerve root, and up the spinal cord to your brain. After your brain receives the message and interprets it as pain, you feel the pain.

A root block effectively relieves your pain by stopping the nerve impulse at the nerve root. As a result, the pain signal doesn’t reach your brain, and you won’t feel the pain.

Root blocks stop pain signals by injecting two medications at the targeted nerve root: a local anesthetic and a steroid. Anesthetics immediately block nerve impulses, providing fast pain relief. Steroids reduce inflammation at the nerve root, which provides longer-lasting relief.

Although we can inject nerve blocks at the individual sensory nerves serving your limbs, targeting the nerve root affects numerous nerves, which gives you better relief from limb pain. We can block any nerve root in your spine, so a root block effectively relieves pain in your arms or legs.

What happens during a root block

Your root block consists of two injections because the first injection is diagnostic. Based on your symptoms and diagnostic imaging, we can determine the nerve root responsible for your limb pain. However, we verify that a nerve block will work by first injecting an anesthetic. If it reduces your pain, then we move forward with the steroid-containing nerve block.

When we administer the injection, we use X-ray imaging to guide the needle, placing it precisely at the targeted nerve root before injecting the medication. As the injected fluid surrounds the nerve root, it essentially bathes all the nerves in pain-relieving medication.

The results of a root block vary from one patient to the next, but many patients experience long-term pain relief that lasts from several months to a year. If you have ongoing limb pain and you’d like to learn whether a root block can help you, call Florida Pain Medicine, or book an appointment online.

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