Facet joints are small, bony joints that sit along the spine. They are paired up from the neck to the lower back area. When the joints get inflamed, they cause pain that can be severe. The pain can be acute or chronic, caused by a variety of conditions.
The pain radiates to other parts of the body and causes indirect pain. For pain that starts in the lower back, it’s common for the pain to move to the thighs and buttocks. If the pain starts in the neck or upper back region, it can transfer to the shoulders, arms, and even cause headaches.
What is a Facet Joint Injection?
The injection is a strong anti-inflammatory steroid that gets inserted into the facet joint. The medication is a mixture of a local anesthetic and a steroid, similar to a cortisone injection. Before performing the injection, your doctor will explain the procedure, have you sign all the appropriate consent forms, and then have you lie on your stomach.
The procedure is minimally invasive. X-ray guidance is used to locate the facet joints and helps guide the needle to the exact location. The actual injection only takes a few minutes, but you may want to allow for additional recovery time depending on the type of anesthetic you choose. Some doctors will let you choose a local anesthetic or a stronger general anesthetic. The general anesthetic may cause drowsiness and sedation will take longer to wear off.
What to Expect After the Injection?
Right after the injection, you will feel relief from pain. That is due to the anesthetic in the injection, and only lasts for a few hours. The injection site may become sore after a few days, and it’s not uncommon for the pain to resume the day after the injection. About 1-2 days after the injection, the medication will begin to take effect and help reduce your pain on a daily basis.
It is advised to take it easy following the injection and to only resume normal activity when it is comfortable to do so. Your doctor may recommend applying ice to the injection site. This will help reduce any swelling and soreness following the procedure.
How Long Does a Facet Joint Injection Last?
Immediately following the injection, you may feel lessened pain. However, this is temporary relief until the medication kicks in. That can take between 2-7 days after the injection.
If the first injection is successful in managing your pain, your doctor may perform additional injections. The amount of relief depends on your specific pain and because there are a variety of pain receptors in the spine, the long-term effect of these injections cannot be predicted. Everyone’s pain is different, so the treatment effectiveness will vary.
There are very few risks associated with this type of injection. The most common being tenderness and pain at the injection site, although this is temporary. Side effects of the steroids may include weight gain, water retention, and temporary increase in blood sugar.
Facet joint injections are an excellent alternative to undergoing serious back surgery. Talk with your doctor today to discuss your options for getting relief from your pain and taking one step closer to bettering your quality of life.
Risks Associated with the Facet Joint Injection Procedure
As with any type of injection or invasive procedure, there are certain risks or complications that could arise:
- Allergies: In most cases, the allergic reaction is caused by the X-ray contrast or steroid, not the local anesthetic. Severe allergies are rare.
- Bleeding: In patients who are taking blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder, it is possible to have some bleeding as a result of the injection.
- Discomfort at the Injection Site: Worsened pain or discomfort at the injection site. Long-term pain is uncommon.
- Infection: Minor infections occur in less than 2% of facet joint injections. More complex infections are rare, only happening in 0.1% of injections.