Facet joints are those joints that connect the vertebrae in your back. There is cartilage between each joint and bone along with a fluid-filled sac that provides cushioning and smooth movement. Facet joints are what give your spine flexibility. They allow you to bend, twist, and move in multiple directions. When the joints are damaged, they can lead to pain in the neck and back. That pain can be debilitating.
One way to treat the condition known as facet joint syndrome is to turn to steroid-anesthetic injections. These are known as facet joint injections. We may recommend them to patient’s suffering neck and back pain as a result of an inflammatory disease, acute injury, or general overuse.
Pain occurs when nerves send pain signals to the brain. Like most injection treatments, facet joint injections relieve back and neck pain by reducing nerve inflammation. This results in fewer pain signals. Facet joint injections can provide significant relief for months at a time. Best of all, the procedure is an outpatient procedure that a skilled doctor can complete in 15 to 30 minutes.
There are times when facet joint injections are recommended as way of diagnosing what is causing neck and back pain. If the injections are successful, a doctor will diagnose facet joint syndrome. If not, another cause for the patient’s pain is sought.
The first step in facet joint injection is to have the patient lie face down on the treatment table. Skin at the injection site is treated with a local anesthetic, which also penetrates the tissue directly under. Next, a needle is inserted into the back and guided toward the joint suspected of causing the problem.
The doctor will use a fluoroscope to ensure the needle’s correct position. A contrast dye is then injected to confirm placement. Once the doctor satisfied, a combination of steroid medication and anesthetic is injected. It bathes the nerves and provides instant pain relief. Note that the instant relief is due to the anesthetic. Pain will return until the steroid medication significantly reduces inflammation.
Following the injection, the needle is removed and the area bandaged. Additional recovery time may be necessary for some patients. Almost all return home the same day.
Pain relief directly related to a reduction in inflammation generally kicks in 24 to 48 hours after the procedure. Any pain relief originally experienced as a result of the anesthetic is likely to return, at least to some degree, as the anesthetic wears off. In terms of long-term pain relief, it could be as little as a few weeks or as long as several months. Note that up to three facet joint injections can be performed per year.
The risk of complications from this procedure are extremely low. Side effects are also minimal, being mainly limited to pain and swelling at the injection site. They go away within 24 to 36 hours. Note that infection is always a risk for therapies involving needles. Let your doctor know of any infection concerns before you undergo the treatment.
If you are suffering from facet joint syndrome, a steroid injection will either confirm the diagnosis and offer pain relief or reveal that the source of your pain is something else. To learn more about facet joint injections, contact our Weatherford clinic. One of our pain management doctors would be more than happy to sit and discuss facet joint injections with you.