Indications for repeat diagnostic medial branch nerve blocks following a failed first medial branch nerve block

Pain Physician. 2013 Sep-Oct;16(5):479-88.


No studies have directly measured the false negative rate of medial branch block (MBB) with correlation to medial branch neurotomy (MBN) outcome. We investigated the potential false negative MBB rate and the subsequent MBN outcome on a consecutive audit of all patients undergoing a double MBB protocol. We prospectively collected audit data and retrospectively collected data by phone on 229 consecutive patients undergoing diagnostic MBB. One-hundred-twenty-two patients reporting greater than 50% of subjective pain relief subsequently underwent either MBN or a confirmatory block followed by MBN. A total of 55 patients underwent a second confirmatory MBB and within that group 27.3% (15/55) reported less than 50% relief post initial MBB and 30.9% (17/55) between 50% and 69% relief. We performed an in-depth analysis of these 2 subgroups focusing on the reason a second MBB was performed despite a "negative" or "indeterminant" first MBB. We divided the "negative" responders to the first MBB into those reporting < 50% relief (Group 1) and those reporting between 50% and 69% relief (Group 2). We calculated a potential 46.7% false negative rate in Group 1 and 47.1% false negative in Group 2; however, the false negative results in Group 1 were predominately in those patients reporting delayed relief of pain and those re-blocked greater than 2 years after the first MBB. The success rate in all patients undergoing MBN was 87% compared to the 75% relief in the false negative groups with no statistically significant difference. In summary, the false negative rate for patients reporting less than 50% relief post MBB is probably less than 20% although there is a high "apparent negative" responds in patients reporting delayed relief or in those who had a second block 2 or more years post initial MBB. Patients reporting between 50 and 69% pain relief have a false negative response rate of 47.1% and should be considered for a confirmatory block.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Pain / diagnosis*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Female
  • Fluoroscopy / methods
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis*
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Block* / methods
  • Pain Measurement
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult
  • Zygapophyseal Joint / innervation*