What is Facet Joint Pain?
Facet joint pain is often characterized by a dull ache across the back sometimes making it difficult to stand up straight from a seated position. You may not even know you have facet joint syndrome until an event triggers the symptoms. Difficulty bending the spine, especially backwards, or twisting sideways is a clear sign you are suffering from this joint degeneration especially if it causes pain at the facet joints. Standing for long periods of time or doing certain activities may trigger pain as well. If you are unable to turn your head or find yourself turning your entire body to look left or right, you may be suffering from facet joint syndrome in your neck (cervical spine). Facet joint pain can often be mistaken for a herniated disc. Changing your position such as leaning forward or sitting down may dull the pain.
How are Facet Joint Injections Performed?
A facet joint injection procedure usually takes 15 minutes or less. You will be prepared for a facet joint injection by lying face down on an X-ray table. Sedation can be delivered if necessary. The injection site is cleaned thoroughly before the injection, to reduce the risk of infection. A local anesthetic is then applied to numb the area.
Then, a fluoroscopic dye is injected so that your doctor can track the path of the needle using an X-ray. Once the needle is in the correct position, the medication is injected. The medication can be a steroid, a painkiller, or both. While the procedure usually takes under 15 minutes, you may stay longer so that any potential side effects can be monitored.
Facet joint injections are considered a minimally invasive, low risk procedure. While complications are usually not severe and are not common, they can include bleeding from the injection site, headaches, and infection at the injection site. The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site. This typically resolves within a week. Applying ice to the area for around 15 minutes at a time for the first couple of days after your procedure can significantly reduce soreness.
How Do Facet Joint Injections Work?
While each facet joint is only about the size of a dime, these joints are very important to your spine’s stability and mobility. Each vertebra has two facet joints: two face upward and two downward. Research indicates that up to 45% of back and neck pain is related to issues with the facet joints.
Facet joint injections are injections at the facet joints to reduce pain. These injections usually use a steroid that can cut inflammation and relieve the pressure that causes pain. They may also contain an anesthetic to reduce pain right away.
When the medications are injected, they spread to other areas to ease pain there, as well. Facet joint injections can provide rapid relief of symptoms so you are able to move without pain and regain your active lifestyle. In one study, patients were found to have a 42% to 92% reduction in their pain levels four weeks after getting a facet injection.
Conditions Facet Joint Injections Can Treat
Facet joint injections can also be used to treat these conditions:
- Degenerative disc disease: discs degenerating and breaking down causing pain.
- Herniated or bulging discs: jelly-filled discs between each of your vertebrae that can become irritated or inflamed, leading to disc pain.
- Spinal stenosis: narrowing of the inside of the vertebrae causing painful pressure on the nerve roots.
Facet joint injections can also be used as a diagnostic tool. If the injection provides pain relief, your doctor now knows that this specific joint is the origin of your pain. This is commonly used as a diagnostic tool to identify arthritis of the spine.