What is Stellate Ganglion Block?
Stellate ganglion block (SGB) is an established procedure used by anesthesiologists and anesthesia providers to relieve pain. Emerging research suggests that SGB may also help a subset of Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have not found relief from traditional evidence-based treatments such as therapy and medication.
SGB has been used for decades to treat complex pain syndromes that affect the head, face, neck and arms. During the procedure, a doctor or certified health care provider uses x-ray or ultrasound imaging to guide a needle into a bundle of nerves located near the base of the neck. The provider then injects a local anesthetic into the nerve tissue like a dentist delivers numbing medicine before a dental procedure. The anesthetic lasts only a few hours, but the effects of the procedure can last for several weeks or longer in some cases.
How can SGB be used to treat PTSD?
There is growing evidence that SGB may alleviate certain PTSD symptoms such as hyperarousal, exaggerated startle responses and anxiety. Researchers are not sure exactly how SGB works, but it appears to calm an exaggerated “flight or fight” survival reflex in people living with PTSD, which can become triggered by various events that don’t warrant it. People who received SGB for other health conditions like nerve pain report positive effects for their PTSD symptoms including reduced anxiety and hypervigilance.
SGB has limited side effects and is relatively safe when administered by a trained clinician. After the procedure, some people who are treated with SGB for PTSD symptoms find more benefit from traditional treatments like talk therapy because of a reduction in anxiety and other symptoms.
SGB is not a cure and the treatment does not work for everyone. However, it is a promising option for people with PTSD symptoms, which have not responded to other evidence-based treatments.