Facet joint injections are injections of steroids into the facet joints of the spine. The facet joints of the spine provide stability along the various regions of the spine, including the lumbar and cervical regions. When a patient experiences arthritis, stress, or injury to the facet joints, a facet joint injection can help alleviate pain.
Physicians use a facet joint injection to accomplish several objectives. Primarily, a numbing agent injected into the joint can help confirm that a specific facet joint is the reason for ongoing pain. In addition to the numbing agent, the injection also contains a steroid, often cortisone. The cortisone will reduce inflammation and help with long-term pain relief.
Most patients will not need general anesthesia for the procedure, but some amount of intravenous sedation may be used to help reduce the stress and discomfort associated with the procedure. Local anesthetic is used as well to help the patient tolerate the procedure. The local anesthetic will numb the skin and tissues surrounding the actual facet joint injection site.
Precautions are taken during the facet joint injection procedure. These precautions ensure patients remain as comfortable as possible and can tolerate the procedure. Precautions include blood pressure monitoring, the use of an EKG machine, and the use of an antiseptic at the injection site. An x-ray will also be used to ensure the correct joint is treated.
After the procedure, a patient may notice several things. The numbing agent may lead to an initial relief of pain. As the numbing agent wears off, pain may increase for the first two or three days before the cortisone has a chance to kick in and relieve pain on a long-term basis. During this time, patients may find that applying ice to the area helps alleviate pain.
Immediately following a facet joint injection, a patient should take several steps to ensure safety. Patients will require a ride home from the procedure. In addition, patients should reduce activity levels during the day of the procedure. Patients can return to work the following day. Exercise can be resumed gradually over the course of a few weeks to ensure pain stays at bay.
Facet joint injections may need to be repeated. Up to three injections can be done within a six month period. Patients who don’t experience pain relief after a series of three injections are unlikely to experience pain relief from the use of additional facet joint injections. Serious side effects are rare with facet joint injections.