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Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine dedicated to the comprehensive care of patients before, during and after surgery and childbirth; critical care medicine; and the treatment of acute and chronic pain.

Each year, millions of people in the United States undergo some form of medical treatment requiring anesthesia. Anesthesia, in the hands of qualified professionals, like certified registered nurse anesthetists, is a safe and effective means of alleviating pain during nearly every type of medical procedure.

What is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)? 

A CRNA is a type of advanced practice registered nurse, prepared at the master’s or doctoral level, with specialized education in anesthesia and pain management. Most people know CRNAs care for patients on the operating table – but may be surprised by their other expert specialties.

  • Surgical general anesthesia: It is the CRNA’s role to keep the patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering a general anesthetic. During general anesthesia, the patient is unconscious and cannot be aroused or made alert. For example, operations in the abdomen usually are done under general anesthesia. The CRNA is responsible for the patient’s well-being before, during and after surgery, including ongoing care after the surgery in the post-operative care unit.
  • Sedation for noninvasive, uncomfortable non-surgical procedures: Certain medical procedures, such as endoscopies, colonoscopies and MRI studies, may also require the services of an anesthetist. During light sedation, patients are easily aroused, are able to breathe without help, and there is little effect on heart function or blood pressure.
  • Regional anesthesia: Techniques in which nerves are blocked using so-called “local anesthetic” medications are called regional anesthesia. Regional anesthesia is used for a variety of major and minor surgeries. It is frequently used for orthopedic surgical procedures such a knee or hip replacements.

Chronic and acute pain treatments

An additional service provided by the CRNAs is treatment of chronic pain conditions resulting from injury, disease, surgeries, and many other causes. Patients needing interventional pain management services suffer distress and discomfort caused by a variety of conditions and disorders, including:

  • Chronic lower back and neck pain
  • Chronic joint pain
  • Chronic reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) or complex regional pain syndrome
  • Facial and head pain
  • Fibromyalgia and chronic muscle pain syndromes
  • Joint arthritis
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Neck, shoulder and arm pain
  • Nerve pain

Interventional pain management involves special procedures that strive to effectively treat and manage pain. Under the umbrella of “interventional” procedures is an array of treatments, which include, but are not limited to, injections of anesthetic medicines or steroids around nerves, tendons, joints or muscles. Some of the most common interventional procedures include:

  • Facet joint injections. Facet joints are the joints in your spine that make your back flexible and enable you to bend and twist.
  • Greater trochanteric bursa hip injection. Trochanteric bursitis is inflammation of the bursa sac that lies over the outside part of your thigh bone, where it joins the hip.
  • Lumbar epidural steroid injection. A common treatment for many forms of lower back and leg pain (sciatica).
  • Occipital nerve block. A procedure involving injection of a steroid or other medication around the greater and lesser occipital nerves that are located on the back of the head just above the neck area.
  • Peripheral nerve block.  This procedure involves injecting a local anesthetic near the nerve, or nerves, that control sensation and movement to a specific part of the body.
  • Piriformis muscle injection. Common conditions for which this procedure is used include piriformis muscle spasm and inflamation.
  • Sacroiliac joint steroid injection. These injections are given directly to the sacroiliac joint located at the bottom of the spine.
  • Trigger-point injections. This is an outpatient procedure designed to reduce or relieve upper and lower back, neck, and shoulder/arm pain caused by trigger points (small knots that can form in muscles or in the facial tissue).


Eric Barrett, CRNA, ARNP,  and Steve Eck, CRNA, both with NorthStar Anesthesia, collaborate with referring physicians to provide care for patients either in the surgical center or clinic setting. Symptoms and conditions may be similar, but treating each patient is a unique experience.