Intercostal nerve blocks are a minimally invasive, non-surgical treatment. These nerve blocks can help in the diagnosis of persistent chest, abdominal, and flank pain that is not responsive to oral medications. In addition, this pain management technique can also provide therapeutic relief by reducing pain signals originating from these nerves.
Common scenarios where this treatment may be utilized include pain either before or after chest wall surgery, chest wall trauma, chronic pain after thoracic surgery, post-herpetic neuralgia, chronic abdominal pain persistent after abdominal surgery, chronic pain after breast surgery (mastectomy), and pain from metastatic disease to the ribs.
To increase accuracy and safety, an intercostal nerve block is performed with x-ray guidance or ultrasound.
While this procedure is considered safe, there can be risks, side effects and the possibility of complications. The most common side effect is temporary pain at the injection site. Other less common risks include bleeding, infection, or injection into blood vessels. The most concerning although uncommon side-effect is unintended puncture of the lung, which lies in close proximity to the ribs. X-ray guidance or ultrasound to provide visualization of the targeted structures significantly minimizes risk and improves accuracy.