SGB, Relaxation and Nitric Oxide

The most immediate effect of SGB is a profound muscle relaxation, beyond that achieved with medications such as Flexeril or Valium.  This is why conditions where spasm is prominent, such as lumbosacral (low back) strain or cervical spondylosis causing “pinched nerve” in the neck, respond so dramatically to SGB.  This muscle relaxation translates to an overall sense of relaxation, felt during and after the treatment.  Many patients have likened this to the relaxation one experiences after deep meditation, Yoga, or Acupuncture.  This is the effect that Gen. Georges Doriot of Harvard Business School, (his ARD company was historically America’s first venture capital firm), was referring to in describing SGB to people unfamiliar with it—he was fond of saying “you are calm and relaxed—the treatment makes you feel twenty years younger!”

Recently, the scientific reason for this effect may have been discovered.  It has long been known that the sphenopalatine ganglion, the nerve center which is touched in SGB, is involved in the modulation of one of the body’s important transmitter molecules, Nitric Oxide (not to be confused with dental anesthetic Nitrous Oxide, or laughing gas).  Until a relatively short time ago, the function of Nitric Oxide was largely unknown, and researchers considered it a curiosity that it was related to function of the sphenopalatine ganglion, but did not know what Nitric Oxide actually did in the body.  Recent work from Dr. Herbert Benson’s group at Harvard Medical School has shown that our body’s own Nitric Oxide appears to be critical in achieving the relaxation induced by meditation, Yoga, or religious practice across cultures.  Research at the Benson Henry Institute has shown that people have measurably increased Nitric Oxide levels during and after meditation. 

Dr. Benson is best known as the author of the ground breaking bestseller, The Relaxation Response, a cornerstone of what has come to be known as mind-body medicine, which has contributed immeasurably to the health of thousands of people through controlling stress, hypertension, obesity, and age-related illness.  Since undergoing Dr. Benson’s training for practitioners in mind-body medicine, Dr. Reder has incorporated those techniques into his practice of pain management.  To experience the techniques first hand, he has also participated for a number of years as a patient at the Benson Henry Institute.  

Since patients receiving SGB report a sensation identical to the relaxation response achieved by meditation, it may be that SGB acts through Nitric Oxide, a sort of “short-cut” to the relaxation response.  Obviously this is not to suggest that one should undergo a medical procedure instead of meditating, only that we now have a possible mechanism for this welcome “side effect” of SGB treatment—a deep feeling of relaxation during and after treatment.