Like the joints in your knees, a special kind of joint connects the different bones in your spine. Known as a facet joint, such joints allow the spine to move forward and backward and bend side to side.
However, osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease or OA, can affect both your knee and spinal joints. Specifically, if you develop OA in your spine, it breaks down these facet joints, which are critical for proper movement and motion of your spine. When the cartilage in these joints breaks down, it causes significant pain, inflammation and bony enlargement of the joint.
This bony enlargement, also called facet hypertrophy are abnormal bone growths along the joints. These can narrow the space that cradles your spinal cord as well as the small holes where the nerve roots exit the spinal column and start pinching your nerves, causing pain or numbness in your extremities.
Facet joint blocks, also called facet joint injections, relieve this pain by numbing the nerve that’s sending pain signals to your brain. For this procedure, doctors inject an anti-inflammatory medication and/or a local anesthetic into the joint capsule blocking the medial branch nerve from the nerve root. These injections are performed under fluoroscopy (guided X-ray) for proper needle placement.
Who Should Get a Facet Joint Injection?
As you age, you’ll experience some form of wear and tear on your body. Your joints are no exception. Thus, with aging, back pain can be caused by many factors. Facet joint arthritis is just one of them.
If you have facet joint problems, your spine may feel stiff, and you sometimes have to rotate your whole body to look left and right. For your doctor to truly determine that your facet joints are the cause of your pain, doctors will suggest a diagnostic facet joint injection. Once the procedure has been administered, your doctor will ask you to take notes on how much pain relief you get from the injection.
If you do experience relief, then doctors will definitely know that your pain comes from a painful facet joint. At this point, you will either receive a long-lasting steroid to relieve the pain or radiofrequency ablation treatment, which gives longer lasting relief.
How Are Facet Joint Blocks Administered?
Much like filling a cavity in your tooth, the facet joint injection procedure is minimally invasive and doesn’t require you to “go under.” However, for assurance, a responsible doctor will monitor your vital signs: blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen level.
You won’t be able to eat or drink for several hours prior to the procedure. Additionally, you should tell your doctor if you’re taking blood thinners or anti-inflammatory drugs.
The procedure is straightforward:
- Your doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the injection site.
- Using fluoroscopy, or x-ray guidance, your doctor will properly locate the facet joint that needs the injection most.
- The steroid medication and/or numbing medicine will then be injected into the joint or adjacent to the nerve itself using a small needle.
What Happens After Receiving a Facet Injection?
Similar to the flu shot, your injection site may be sore for a few days. We recommend applying ice packs to eliminate some of the inflammation that may occur from the injection. In addition to tenderness, side effects of facet blocks are generally mild. You may experience:
- A feeling of warmth from the steroid
- Temporary weakness, numbing or tingling in your extremities
- Temporary pain that subsides over a few days
- Increased blood sugar levels due to the corticosteroid being administered
Additional Information About Your Facet Injection
The first injection you receive will most likely be diagnostic, as it will determine if your pain actually comes from a deteriorating facet joint. This preliminary shot won’t include a steroid, so it will only last for a few hours since its only goal is to diagnose the source of your pain.
If an arthritic facet joint is judged to be the cause of your back pain, your doctor will then administer a therapeutic facet joint injection, one that contains a more powerful anti-inflammatory and anesthetic to provide lasting relief.
You can receive several of these shots each year, depending on your condition and whether or not you use other treatment methods.
Are Facet Joint Injections the Right Treatment for My Arthritis?
We don’t suggest you self-diagnose how and why you feel pain. Instead, you should see a doctor, preferably one at Arthritis Relief & Vascular Centers. With a one-on-one consultation, we can determine the source of your back pain, whether it be osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease or some other condition.
Contact us today to begin your path to relief!