What is a facet joint injection?
A facet joint injection is a combination of local anaesthetic (to reduce pain in the short-term) and corticosteroid (to reduce pain and inflammation longer term) that is injected into a targeted facet joint that is inflamed or irritated. It is performed under x-ray guidance to ensure the injection goes in the correct place.
Your facet joints are small joints on either side of your spine which link each adjacent bone (vertebrae) to each other. They stabilise your spine, whilst allowing movement.
When is a facet joint injection recommended?
Facet joint injections are widely used for the treatment of pain caused by inflamed and irritated facet joints. The pain is the result of facet joint disease brought about by wear and tear, ageing, injury or misuse.
You will feel pain around your facet joints and this can spread depending upon which facet joints are affected. Lower back facet joints will present pain in your buttocks and upper legs. Facet joints in your neck can cause pain in the back of your head, upper back, and shoulders. Facet joint disease can also lead to your muscles nearby feeling tight and painful. Facet joint injections are recommended by your doctor to reduce the inflammation and pain in these joints.
Facet joint injections are also used as a diagnostic tool to find out if the facet joint is the source of your pain. If you feel complete pain relief when the numbing medicine is placed into your facet joint it indicates that that joint is likely a source of your pain.
What happens during a facet joint injection?
Facet joint injections take about twenty minutes to perform and are carried out as a day case procedure.
During the procedure you will lie on your stomach on an imaging table. You may be offered some sedation for pain relief during the procedure. Under x-ray guidance, your doctor will place the needle and administer the injection into your facet joint. They may inject several joints in the same session.
Benefits of a facet joint injection
A facet joint injection is a minimally invasive procedure that can alleviate back and neck pain caused by inflamed facet joints. They can help you better tolerate prescribed physiotherapy to rehabilitate your back. A facet joint injection can also be used to diagnose the cause and location of your pain.
Complications are rare with facet joint injections, however as with any invasive medical procedure, there are potential complications including:
- Allergic reaction
- Discomfort and worsening pain at the injection site
- Nerve or spinal cord damage.
After a facet joint injection
You will be in the recovery room for a short period of time following the procedure. You will need someone to drive you home. You may initially feel an increase in pain as the local anaesthetic wears off and before the steroid becomes effective which can take 24 to 36 hours. It’s therefore recommended that you rest and restrict your activity for the first 24 hours after the injection.
How long will the pain relief last?
Facet joint injections can help relieve your pain for days or even years, or in some cases, permanently. They can be repeated if your symptoms come back. However, they don’t work for everybody and they are not a cure.