Every year, millions of people suffer from pain caused by injury to or irritation of the facet joints in their spine. Called facet syndrome, this pain can be caused by arthritis, other degenerative diseases of the spine or by trauma.
Most of the vertebrae in the spinal column have a pair of facet joints which helps the spine to move while keeping it stable. Facet joints are found from the neck all the way down to the lower back. Though syndrome is common, especially in older people, it can be relieved by facet joint injections.
Facet Syndrome Symptoms
The symptoms of facet syndrome in the lumbar spine are low back pain that can radiate into the buttocks, thighs, hips and groin. Sometimes this pain mimics the pain caused by an inflamed sacroiliac joint or a herniated disc. If the affected joints are in the cervical spine, the patient experiences pain in the neck, shoulders and upper back. Headache is another symptom.
Facet Joint Pain Relief Injections
Injections of an anesthetic or steroid into the facet join is a minimally invasive and safe way to ease the pain of facet syndrome. Doctors use X-ray fluoroscopy to locate the facet joint and help them guide the needle.
Facet joint injection is an outpatient procedure, and the patient can go home shortly after the treatment and a period of rest. The patient still should have someone drive them home after the injection.
Most patients are given a local anesthesia, though patients who are anxious about the treatment can be given intravenous sedation. The procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
The patient is given one injection and then has a follow-up visit with their doctor four to six weeks later. If another injection is needed, it is scheduled at that time.
How To Prepare For Facet Joint Injection
A patient should fast overnight or at least not eat or drink for eight hours before the treatment. Though medications for heart disease or hypertension can be taken as usual by the patient, they should discuss taking anticoagulant medications with their general practitioner before the facet injection. Taking these drugs can cause bleeds during or after the injection. Even aspirin is a blood-thinning medication that can lead to complications after facet injections or other procedures. Diabetic patients should also know that their blood sugar levels may rise after the injection and monitor their glucose levels in the days after the treatment.
What Happens After the Facet Injection
The patient may experience some discomfort after the local anesthesia wears off, and the discomfort may last a few days. An ice pack over the area should bring relief, and the patient should take it easy for a few days. It may be a good idea to get the injection at the beginning of a weekend or right before a holiday. Some people do go back to work or school a day or two after the injection, but the patient shouldn’t drive a car for at least eight hours after treatment.
Facet injections normally ease the patient’s pain for at least three months.