A stellate ganglion block is a simple procedure that can provide an almost instantaneous feeling of relief from trauma symptoms.

Yet, understanding how this procedure works requires a deeper look at trauma itself, understanding the function of the bundle of nerves known as the stellate ganglion, and how a stellate ganglion block interacts with these two systems.

Defining Trauma

The first step in understanding the role of a stellate ganglion block in trauma recovery is understanding trauma itself. The word “trauma” comes from the Greek word that translates to “wound.” The Greeks used this word to refer to physical injury, but today, trauma also refers to the effects of psychological wounds.

The analogy of a physical wound can help in understanding how the word trauma is used today. A physical wound is caused by an outside force, such as being cut by a knife, falling onto your hip, or being struck by a baseball. But the wound is independent of the external cause. It is how the body responds to this outside force.

Similarly, trauma does not refer to a specific event. Instead, trauma refers to how people respond to events. As an example, two people can be sitting in a car during a crash, but one person may experience trauma while the other doesn’t. The trauma is the response to the crash — not the crash itself.

To extend the analogy a bit further, a physical wound can leave scars on your body. Living with the effects of trauma is akin to a scar on your mental health.

When the wound is agitated, or something triggers memories of the traumatic event, people can experience uncomfortable reactions and symptoms that they wouldn’t have if they were unscarred.

How Trauma Affects the Sympathetic Nervous System

Advancements in neuroscience have shown that trauma significantly affects the sympathetic nervous system. This system is largely responsible for controlling the “fight-or-flight” response, which prepares your body for action in the presence of danger.

When the sympathetic nervous system detects danger, it causes a chain reaction of effects in different parts of the body, including:

  • Dilating the pupils in your eyes to help improve vision
  • Increasing your heart rate, allowing your heart to pump more oxygen to the body
  • Slowing down the digestive tract
  • Increasing your rate of breathing, allowing you to breathe in more oxygen
  • Activating stores of reserve energy from the liver
  • Releasing norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline, within the brain

These physical changes in the body can be extremely important in life-or-death situations. They can help you escape from danger, fight back, or provide you with a needed boost of energy.

But for people with trauma, this system can quickly become overly sensitive, reacting to unpresented danger. This can easily be seen in the symptoms used to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder, which include:

  • Hypervigilance for danger
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Severe anxiety
  • Irritability, agitation, or hostility

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of trauma symptoms. But it is easy to see that people living with the effects of trauma are often caught in a perpetual cycle of preparing for danger that never occurs, leading to several uncomfortable physical and mental health symptoms.

The trigger for your body’s reaction to danger starts in the brain and is then carried down the spinal cord to reach your limbs and organs. But before reaching the rest of the body, this signal passes through a critical junction of nerves, which serves as the target for the stellate ganglion block treatment.

The Stellate Ganglion

The stellate ganglion is a small bundle of nerves located in the lower neck, just above your first ribs, near the clavicle. The function of the stellate ganglion is as a two-way highway for sympathetic nervous system activation, and it directs signals from the brain toward the rest of the body and vice versa.

Since the stellate ganglion’s purpose is strictly to send sympathetic nervous system signals, it creates an ideal target for helping treat people who show signs of overactive sympathetic nervous system activity.

Stellate Ganglion Blocks

A stellate ganglion block is a simple procedure that blocks the stellate ganglion from sending “fight-or-flight” signals. It is a medical procedure that takes just minutes to perform when under the care of a trained medical professional but can have lasting positive effects on your mental health and trauma recovery.

The stellate ganglion is blocked by injecting a small dose of long-lasting local anesthetic. This brief injection effectively turns the stellate ganglion off, preventing it from sending signals to the brain to trigger the fight or flight response and preventing signals from the brain from reaching the body.

The effects of the stellate ganglion block can be felt in just minutes, with the vast majority of patients receiving treatment reporting a significant reduction in symptoms after the procedure.

Sympathetic Nervous System Reset

The stellate ganglion block treatment can be considered to be a full sympathetic nervous system reset. In trauma recovery, people are often faced with constant feelings of fight-or-flight, anxiety, irritability, or agitation. By turning the stellate ganglion off, patients can finally feel what it’s like to not always be caught in this perpetual loop.

Essentially, a stellate ganglion block returns your sympathetic nervous system to a pre-traumatic state. This, on its own, can be an incredibly valuable component of trauma recovery. It serves as a reminder of what it’s like to live without constantly looking out for danger, being prepared for action, or experiencing chronically high adrenaline levels.

The same is true for your brain and body, which can finally achieve a state of rest without constant stimulation from the sympathetic nervous system. This helps create a new baseline, essentially resetting the entire sympathetic nervous system.

The Science Supporting Stellate Ganglion Blocks

Stellate ganglion blocks have received significant scientific support for trauma recovery. While stellate ganglion blocks are still a relatively new treatment, some recent investigations have shown promising results.

These results include an average 33.5% decrease in PTSD symptoms after eight weeks in a randomized, sham-controlled clinical trial in service members with a PTSD diagnosis and a more than 50% reduction of anxiety symptoms in one week following a stellate ganglion block.

Additionally, over 80% of people who received a stellate ganglion block show significant clinical improvement.

The scientific support for stellate ganglion blocks shows several benefits of this treatment in trauma recovery. First, the effects of stellate ganglion blocks are incredibly rapid compared to other forms of trauma treatment, with most people experiencing clinical improvement after just a single session.

Second, the improvements people feel are substantial. Stellate ganglion blocks are not a cure for trauma, but they can create a meaningful difference that has tangible benefits in your daily life.

And finally, stellate ganglion blocks work for most people. An 80% response rate in trauma recovery is exceptionally high and makes stellate ganglion blocks a clear choice as part of a comprehensive trauma recovery plan.

Stellate Ganglion Blocks as Part of a Comprehensive Trauma Recovery Plan

As effective as stellate ganglion blocks are, they typically aren’t the only recommended treatment for trauma recovery. The effects aren’t permanent since the local anesthetic will wear off in time, and some symptoms may return when it does.

However, when you combine stellate ganglion blocks with other forms of trauma treatment, you pave the way for long-lasting recovery.

A stellate ganglion block can reduce your symptoms to the point where you are more able to engage with other effective trauma recovery methods, such as therapy, neurofeedback, or ketamine-assisted healing.

Individual and Group Therapy

A number of therapeutic modalities can be incredibly effective for trauma recovery. Some of the most helpful therapeutic styles include:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)

As effective as these therapies are, they can often be difficult for people who have experienced trauma. It often takes a long time for clients to see positive results, and trauma itself can get in the way of engaging with therapy effectively.

It is a natural tendency for people with trauma or trauma-related disorders to want to avoid situations that remind them of their traumatic experiences, which is often a component of therapy itself.

By pairing talk therapy approaches with stellate ganglion blocks, the benefits and drawbacks of each style of treatment can be addressed.

A stellate ganglion block provides an immediate improvement in symptoms and can help people who struggle with mental blocks to engage in therapy. The therapy then provides long-lasting results and helps people maintain their trauma recovery with skills and tools to use for a lifetime.

Ketamine-Assisted Healing and Therapy

Ketamine-assisted healing has rapidly become a leading treatment for trauma recovery. Ketamine is a dissociative psychedelic, and when administered under controlled conditions with a therapist, it can help people make rapid breakthroughs that can take months or years in conventional talk therapy approaches.

Stellate ganglion blocks pair well with ketamine-assisted healing. By removing many of the physical symptoms of trauma, people can focus their time in a ketamine session on overcoming the mental obstacles that have resulted from trauma, leading to lasting results.


Neurofeedback is a technologically infused intervention that helps people understand and regulate their brain’s behavior. Using a specialized set of sensors, neurofeedback shows clients real-time information about their brain’s level of electrical activity.

The sensors used in neurofeedback show your brainwaves in real-time. Different brain waves are associated with different personal states:

  • Beta Waves: Associated with feeling alert and awake
  • Alpha Waves: Associated with feeling relaxed and calm
  • Theta Waves: Associated with deep relaxation and mindfulness
  • Delta Waves: Associated with sleep

By providing real-time information about different brainwaves, clients can learn to control and regulate their brain’s activity and, in turn, their mood. You can learn to self-soothe, calm yourself down from overly excited states, and even learn to fall asleep faster.

Neurofeedback and stellate ganglion block treatments complement each other well. While the stellate ganglion provides you with a more relaxed baseline, you can learn to enter these relaxed states consciously for years to come.

Start Treatment at Plus by APN

At Plus by APN, our team believes in offering our clients the best innovative and cutting-edge treatment options for trauma recovery. This includes conventional talk therapy approaches and newer treatment options such as stellate ganglion blocks and ketamine-assisted healing.

To get started on your journey to recovery, reach out to our team by completing the online contact form or calling 424.644.6486 to speak to one of our trained mental health professionals.


  • Lynch, James H., et al. “Stellate Ganglion Block Reduces Anxiety Symptoms by Half: A Case Series of 285 Patients.” Journal of Personalized Medicine, vol. 13, no. 6, 2023, p. 958, https://doi.org/10.3390/jpm13060958. Accessed 30 Mar. 2024.
  • Mulvaney, Sean W., et al. “Stellate Ganglion Block Used to Treat Symptoms Associated With Combat-Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series of 166 Patients.” Military Medicine, vol. 179, no. 10, 2014, pp. 1133-1140, https://doi.org/10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00151. Accessed 30 Mar. 2024.
  • Rae Olmsted KL, Bartoszek M, Mulvaney S, et al. Effect of Stellate Ganglion Block Treatment on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(2):130–138. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.3474