Cervical, thoracic or lumbar facet joint injections involves injecting a small amount of local anesthetic (numbing agent) and/or steroid medication, which can anesthetize the facet joints and block the pain. The pain relief from a facet joint injection is intended to help a patient better tolerate a physical therapy routine to rehabilitate his or her injury or back condition.
Facet joint injections usually have two goals: to help diagnose the cause and location of pain and also to provide pain relief:
- Diagnostic goals: By placing numbing medicine into the facet joint, the amount of immediate pain relief experienced by the patient will help determine if the facet joint is a source of pain. If complete pain relief is achieved while the facet joint is numb, it means that joint is likely a source of pain.
- Pain relief goals: Along with the numbing medication, a facet joint injection also includes injecting time-release steroid (cortisone) into the facet joint to reduce inflammation, which can sometimes provide longer-term pain relief.
The facet joint injection procedure may also be called a facet block, as its purpose is to block the pain.
Facet joint injections are a relatively simple, straightforward procedure, and is usually performed in an office based procedure suite or in an ambulatory surgical center.
As with many spinal injections, facet joint injections are best performed using fluoroscopy (live X-ray) for guidance to properly target and place the needle (and to help avoid nerve injury or other injury).
The Facet Joint Injection
The injection procedure includes the following steps:
- Commonly, the procedure is performed without any sedation, however, an IV line can be started if relaxation medicine is needed.
- The patient lies on a procedure table, and the skin over the area to be tested is well cleansed.
- The physician treats a small area of skin with a numbing medicine (anesthetic), which may sting for a few seconds.
- The physician uses X-ray guidance (fluoroscopy) to direct a very small needle into the facet joint.
- A small amount of contrast dye is then injected to confirm that the needle is in the joint and that medication is contained inside the joint.
- Following this confirmation, a small mixture of anesthetic (such as lidocaine) and anti-inflammatory medication (steroid/cortisone) is then slowly injected into the joint.
The injection itself only takes a few minutes, but the entire procedure usually takes between fifteen and thirty minutes.