Facet Joint Injections
Facet joints are the small joints that connect your vertebrae together and keep your spine both stable and flexible. Over time, however, these joints can be subject to wear and tear that can lead to back and neck pain. When this happens, facet joint injections can ease inflammation and reduce neck and back pain.
What Are Facet Joint Injections?
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.
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 facedown on an X-ray table. Sedation can be delivered if necessary.
The injection site is cleaned thoroughly before the injection to cut 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.
Conditions Related to Facet Joint Injections
Facet joint degeneration can occur at any point along the spine but are most common in the neck and lower back. This condition is also known as facet syndrome and reduces your spine's ability to take pressure and results in pain. Other conditions that can be relieved by facet joint injections include:
- Degenerative disc disease - As we age, it is common for the discs in our spine to break down.
- Herniated or bulging discs - There are jelly-filled discs between each of our vertebrae. They can become irritated or inflamed, which can lead to disc pain.
- Spinal stenosis - This is a narrowing of the inside of the vertebrae, which can cause 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.
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