hit counter

Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) for Anxiety Disorders: Preliminary Evidence (2023)

Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB), a medical procedure originally designed for pain management, is emerging as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders.

This approach leverages its ability to modulate the sympathetic nervous system, which plays a significant role in anxiety symptoms.


  • SGB Procedure & Technicality: SGB involves injecting a local anesthetic near the stellate ganglion in the neck, performed under ultrasound guidance for precision and safety.
  • Historical Uses in Pain and Vascular Disorders: Traditionally, SGB has been effectively used in managing sympathetically-mediated pain conditions like CRPS and vascular issues like Raynaud’s phenomenon.
  • Emerging Use for Anxiety Disorders: Building on its success in treating PTSD, SGB is being explored for anxiety treatment, given its potential to modulate the sympathetic nervous system’s overactivity associated with anxiety.
  • Mechanisms for Treating Anxiety: SGB may reset the fight or flight response, reduce physiological anxiety symptoms, and enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapies by lowering physiological arousal.

Source: Journal of Personalized Medicine (2023)

What is a stellate ganglion block (SGB)?

The Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) is a targeted medical intervention where a local anesthetic is injected near the stellate ganglion, a collection of nerves in the neck.

This ganglion, part of the sympathetic nervous system, is crucial for the body’s stress responses, notably the ‘fight or flight’ reaction.

How the procedure works…

  1. Procedure Setup: SGB is performed in a controlled medical environment, often as an outpatient procedure.
  2. Patient Positioning: The patient lies supine (on their back), with the head turned to the opposite side of the injection, exposing the side of the neck for the procedure.
  3. Ultrasound Guidance: A high-frequency linear ultrasound probe is used to visualize the neck’s anatomy, particularly the stellate ganglion’s location. Ultrasound helps in avoiding vital structures like blood vessels and ensuring precise anesthetic delivery.
  4. Anesthetic Administration: After identifying the stellate ganglion, a fine needle is carefully inserted. Local anesthetics like ropivacaine or bupivacaine are slowly injected. The volume and concentration of the anesthetic depend on the individual’s specifics and the intended duration of nerve blockage.
  5. Monitoring & Safety: Continuous monitoring during the procedure is essential for immediate detection and management of any adverse reactions, such as bleeding or infection at the injection site, or more rarely, a pneumothorax.

Medical Uses of Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB)

Pain Management

SGB is often used to treat sympathetically-mediated pain syndromes like complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), phantom limb pain, and herpes zoster pain (shingles).

  • CRPS: For complex regional pain syndrome, SGB can reduce pain and improve limb function.
  • Phantom Limb Pain: Helps in managing pain sensations from a limb that is no longer present.
  • Herpes Zoster Pain (Shingles): Provides relief from the nerve pain associated with shingles.

Vascular Disorders

It is also used in the management of certain vascular problems like Raynaud’s phenomenon, where it helps by improving blood flow.

  • Raynaud’s Phenomenon: SGB can improve blood flow and reduce symptoms like pain and color changes in fingers and toes.

Stellate Ganglion Block for Anxiety: Case Series of 285 Patients (2023 Paper)

Lynch et al. published a case series of 285 patients evaluating the efficacy of stellate ganglion block for anxiety.

The primary aim was to assess the impact of SGB on anxiety symptoms, specifically measured by the Generalized Anxiety Disorder questionnaire (GAD-7) scores.

The researchers hypothesized that SGB, which has shown effectiveness in treating PTSD, may also significantly reduce symptoms in patients with anxiety disorders.

How did the study work?

The study was a retrospective observational analysis conducted at The Stellate Institute in Annapolis, Maryland.

Participants (285 in total) underwent SGB treatment and were evaluated using the GAD-7 questionnaire pre-procedure, at 1-week, and 1-month post-procedure.

The SGB procedure involved an injection of a long-acting local anesthetic around the cervical sympathetic chain in the neck.

This technique is believed to reset parts of the brain controlling the fight or flight response, potentially alleviating anxiety symptoms.

Data collection was approved by The Institute of Regenerative and Cellular Medicine, Santa Monica, CA Institutional Review Board, and consent was obtained from all participants.

Data analysis employed mixed-effects modeling to assess changes in GAD-7 scores.

What were the results?

Results showed a significant reduction in GAD-7 scores post-treatment.

The mean baseline score of 15.9 (indicating severe anxiety) dropped by 9.0 points at 1 week and 8.3 points at 1 month post-treatment.

A higher percentage of patients demonstrated clinically meaningful improvements in anxiety symptoms.

Additionally, the study found that bilateral injections were more effective than unilateral injections.

What are the implications?

These findings suggest that SGB could be a promising therapeutic option for treating anxiety disorders.

It offers an alternative for patients who have not responded adequately to standard treatments like psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.

The study supports the idea of a shared mechanism in the treatment of PTSD and anxiety disorders, targeting the autonomic nervous system dysfunctions.

Limitations of the case series…

The study’s retrospective nature and lack of a control group limit the strength of the conclusions.

Additionally, most subjects were receiving other treatments (psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy), which were not controlled for in the study.

This introduces potential confounding factors that could influence the outcomes.

Further prospective research is needed to confirm these findings and explore the full potential of SGB in treating various anxiety disorders.

Analysis of Results: SGB for Anxiety (2023 Case Series)

Sample Size: The study analyzed data from 285 patients.

Demographics: The sample included 128 men (45%) and 137 women (55%), with ages ranging from 19 to 81 years.

Mean Baseline GAD-7 Score: The average score was 15.9, indicative of severe anxiety.

Changes in GAD-7 Scores

One Week Post-Treatment:

  • Average Score Reduction: The GAD-7 scores decreased by an average of 9.0 points (95% CI = 8.3–9.7).
  • Statistical Significance: This reduction was statistically significant (p < 0.001).
  • Effect Size: The effect size, measured by Cohen’s d, was 1.8.
  • Clinical Improvement: 211 patients (approximately 74%) showed clinically meaningful improvement.

One Month Post-Treatment:

  • Average Score Reduction: The scores decreased by an average of 8.3 points (95% CI = 7.6–9.0).
  • Statistical Significance: This reduction was also statistically significant (p < 0.001).
  • Effect Size: The effect size here was 1.7.
  • Clinical Improvement: 200 patients (about 70%) demonstrated clinically meaningful improvement.

Comparison of One-Sided vs. Bilateral Injections

One-Sided Injections:

  • One Week: Average reduction of 7.5 points; 73.1% showing improvement.
  • One Month: Average reduction of 6.6 points; 67.3% showing improvement.

Bilateral Injections:

  • One Week: Average reduction of 9.9 points; 83.9% showing improvement.
  • One Month: Average reduction of 9.4 points; 80.7% showing improvement.
  • Statistical Analysis: The difference in score reductions between one-sided and bilateral injections was statistically significant (F(2, 487) = 9.7, p < 0.001).

How can we interpret these results?

Significant Reduction in Anxiety Symptoms: The marked decrease in GAD-7 scores suggests a substantial reduction in anxiety symptoms following SGB treatment.

Clinical Relevance: The changes in scores are not only statistically significant but also clinically meaningful, as the majority of patients showed improvements exceeding the minimum clinically important difference.

Superiority of Bilateral Injections: Bilateral injections appear to be more effective than unilateral injections, a novel finding that could influence future clinical practice.

Sustained Effect: The effect of the SGB treatment was maintained for at least a month, indicating its potential as a long-term therapeutic option.

Rationale for SGB in Treating Anxiety

Overlap with PTSD Treatment

PTSD and anxiety disorders share symptoms like hyperarousal, which are partly mediated by the sympathetic nervous system.

SGB has a history of effective use in PTSD, suggesting potential applicability in anxiety disorders.

Sympathetic Nervous System & Anxiety

The sympathetic nervous system, when overactive or dysregulated, can exacerbate or even drive anxiety symptoms.

SGB, by modulating this system, may offer therapeutic benefits for anxiety.

Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) for Anxiety (Mechanisms)

Resetting the Fight or Flight Response

  • Nerve Signal Interruption: SGB may disrupt the sympathetic nerve signals that are inappropriately elevated in anxiety disorders, essentially ‘resetting’ the system to a more normal state of reactivity.

Reducing Physiological Symptoms

  • Symptom Alleviation: By dampening the overactive sympathetic response, SGB can potentially reduce physical symptoms of anxiety, such as tachycardia (rapid heart rate), sweating, and trembling.

Enhancing Effectiveness of Other Therapies

  • Complementary Therapy: SGB may enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapies by lowering physiological barriers to engagement, like reducing excessive physiological arousal that can interfere with therapeutic interventions.

How to Use SGB for Anxiety (Steps)

Assessment and Preparation

Initial Evaluation: A thorough medical evaluation is necessary to determine suitability for SGB. This includes assessing the severity of anxiety symptoms and ruling out contraindications.

Informed Consent: Patients must be fully informed about the procedure, its potential benefits, and risks.

Performing the Procedure

Setup: The procedure is usually performed in an outpatient setting.

Ultrasound Guidance: Real-time ultrasound is used for precise needle placement.

Injection: A long-acting anesthetic is injected near the stellate ganglion. The volume and concentration of the anesthetic may vary.

Post-Procedure Care

Monitoring: Patients are monitored for immediate side effects, like Horner’s syndrome, a known complication.

Follow-Up: Follow-up visits are crucial to assess the effectiveness and any delayed adverse effects.

Considerations for Repeat Procedures

Response Evaluation: The need for repeat injections depends on the patient’s response. Some may benefit from a single injection, while others might need multiple sessions.

Interval Between Injections: If repeat injections are needed, they are typically spaced several weeks apart.

Integrating with Other Treatments

Combination with Psychotherapy: SGB can be used alongside psychotherapy, potentially enhancing its effectiveness.

Monitoring Other Medications: If the patient is on other anxiety medications, careful monitoring is needed to adjust dosages if necessary.

Takeaway: SGB Shows Promise for Anxiety

SGB, with its direct action on the sympathetic nervous system, represents a novel and potentially effective treatment for anxiety disorders.

Its application in pain and vascular disorders, as well as PTSD, provides a strong foundation for its use in anxiety treatment.

The procedure’s ability to ‘reset’ the fight or flight response and reduce physiological symptoms of anxiety positions it as an intriguing therapeutic option, particularly for patients who have not responded to conventional treatments.

However, as with any medical procedure, careful consideration of risks, benefits, and individual patient factors is crucial.

Further research and clinical trials are necessary to fully understand and optimize the use of SGB in the treatment of anxiety disorders.


Related Posts:

MHD News (100% Free)

* indicates required

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.