Take a look online and you will find plenty of information discussing facet joint injections. Clinics all around the country employ the therapy to treat a variety of back issues, including facet joint syndrome. The injections are safe and relatively effective. Best of all, it is an outpatient procedure that can generally be completed in under 30 minutes.
Facet joint syndrome is a syndrome that affects the joints between each vertebrae in the back. Those joints are called facet joints. They are those which give the back flexibility and movement. When the joints or discs between them begin to degrade, the end result can be back pain. Facet joint injections are designed to relieve that pain.
Pain in the Lower Back
Facet joint syndrome can cause pain in the neck and upper back. More often than not though, the lower back is causing the problem. Given that lower back pain is among the most common complaints in all of medicine, facet joint syndrome is also relatively common.
Doctors sometimes use facet joint injections to make a diagnosis. The thinking is simple. If injections provide immediate relief, then facet joint syndrome is the likely cause of pain. If they do not provide relief, something else is going on.
This reality offers an extra benefit for both doctors and patients alike. If a doctor is fairly confident in their diagnosis, facet joint injections could confirm their diagnosis and simultaneously act as the patient’s first treatment. On the other hand, an injection that fails to offer immediate relief still represents a relatively safe procedure that accurately rules out facet joint syndrome.
How the Injections Work
Lone Star Pain Medicine, a Texas pain clinic located in Weatherford, explains that facet joint injections are relatively simple in principle. They are designed to do two things. First, an anesthetic provides immediate pain relief that wears off in a few hours. Second, a steroid medication begins the process of reducing and controlling inflammation.
Reducing inflammation also reduces pain over time. But here’s where it gets tricky. Patients are known to respond to steroids differently. And by the way, these are corticosteroids rather than anabolic steroids. Regardless, some people enjoy months of consistent pain relief while others can go a year or longer. Some patients do not experience any pain relief at all.
Any immediate relief felt as soon as the injection is made is the result of the anesthesia medication. It wears off in a few hours. Therefore, even if the steroids successfully do their job, lasting pain relief does not begin until 2 to 3 days following the procedure.
Performing the Procedure
To perform the actual procedure, the doctor numbs the skin and tissue surrounding the target area. To ensure correct placement of the needle, most doctors use fluoroscopy and a special, injectable dye. Fluoroscopy allows the doctor to target just the right area for injection.
Once the needle is correctly placed, both anesthesia and steroid medications are injected to bathe the affected tissue and associated nerves. The needle is removed, and the site bandaged. Some patients are ready to head home right away; others need a few minutes of recovery time.
As always, injection therapy does come with the risk of infection. Although side effects and complications are rare, they do occur. Most people only experience a bit of soreness and swelling around the injection site. It wears off after a day or so.
Facet joint injections are one option for treating lower back pain caused by facet joint syndrome. It is a safe and effective procedure done in the doctor’s office.