The small joints located at each segment of the spine are referred to as facet joints. If you are experiencing pain related to one or more of these joints, you may benefit from a facet joint injection. Administered with a local anesthetic, facet joint injections may be done for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. It’s a safe procedure that may result in enough pain relief to allow you to benefit from physical therapy and other treatments for chronic pain.
How Facet Joint Injections Work
You may be given an IV if you need relaxation medication when given a facet joint injection, although sedation isn’t usually necessary. A local anesthetic is usually administered with the injection. You’ll rest on a table and the physician will use X-ray guidance (fluoroscopy) to ensure that the needle is placed correctly. Contrast dye is often used to further confirm that the medication has been delivered to the joint. An anesthetic and an anti-inflammatory medication are then injected into the facet joint.
Determining a Pain Source
If the symptoms you’re experiencing can’t be clearly linked to a facet joint issue, you may be given an injection for diagnostic purposes. Should your pain go away after receiving the injection, it means the facet joint is the problem. If, however, an injection doesn’t produce any relief, your spine pain likely has another source. Disc herniation, in particular, may produce symptoms similar to facet joint syndrome.
When to Consider Injections
Problems with facet joints are a common cause of low back pain and neck pain. If damage to the joint affects nearby nerves, you may experience symptoms that include pain, numbness, and muscle weakness. Facet joints can also be affected by osteoarthritis, the most common cause of chronic joint pain. Injections may be recommended under the following circumstances:
- Other treatments, including the use of prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, aren’t providing sufficient relief
- Your pain is too distracting to allow you to actively participate in physical therapy
- The source of your back or neck pain can’t be clearly determined with other diagnostic tests
Facet joint injections typically take a few minutes to administer. The entire procedure may take about half an hour. Relief may be experienced immediately because of the anesthetic that’s used. It could take several days to a week to experience full results from the injections as the steroids work within tissues to ease inflammation. If you experience relief from the local anesthetic but not the steroid medication, additional testing may be performed.