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Facet Joint Block Injections for Back & Neck Pain Relief

Facet joints are located between each set of vertebrae in the spine from the neck to the tailbone. These joints allow each vertebra to move against the vertebra just above and below it. If the facet joints become painfully irritated or inflamed, a facet joint injection is used to reduce the inflammation and swelling of tissue in and around the facet joint space, and may relieve pain and other symptoms related to the condition. Many people may think of facet joint pain as primarily spine pain, but some patients may have pain in the surrounding tissues and even into arms or legs.

Facet Joint Injections (also known as Facet Joint Blocks) are both a treatment and a diagnostic tool. If the facet injection relieves pain, there are further treatments available to provide longer lasting pain relief, such as radiofrequency ablation.

The facet joints, found on both sides of the back of the spine, can become painfully irritated or inflamed. A facet joint injection may help diagnose the source of a patient’s pain. It can also relieve pain and inflammation.

To start the procedure, the physician numbs the skin and tissue above the facet joint with an injection of local anesthetic. Then, with the aid of an X-ray device called a fluoroscope, the physician guides a needle through the numbed tissue and into the facet joint. Contrast dye is injected into the joint to confirm the needle’s placement. Once the needle is positioned properly, the physician injects a mixture of numbing anesthetic and anti-inflammatory steroid medication. The back/neck pain may subside significantly or disappear after the procedure because of the anesthetic.

After the anesthetic starts to wear off the pain may return. The steroid medication typically takes effect within two days to two weeks after the procedure to reduce inflammation and pain. The length of relief will vary anywhere from several days to several months depending upon the severity of the condition.

Common Questions about Facet Injections

Generally, a facet joint injection is a safe and effective treatment. As with any minimally invasive medical procedure, there are risks that you’ll want to discuss with your physician before treatment is administered. The potential side effects of facet injections include:

  • Soreness and bruising where needle was injected
  • Potential infection at the injection point
  • Allergic reaction to the contrast dye or steroid

Patients with arthritic or thickened facet joints on X-rays are usually good candidates for facet injections. However, many patients with fairly normal looking facet joints on X-ray may still have arthritis or inflammation in the facet joints and may respond well to facet injections. Some patients with whiplash injuries or other traumatic injuries to the neck or back may respond well to facet injections. Many patients, who receive facet injections, also have treatments including anti-inflammatory medication or physical therapy.

Most patients are able to return to work the next day unless complications arise. The most common thing you may feel is soreness or aching at the injection site.

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