What is a facet joint injection?

A facet joint injection is an injection of an anesthetic with a long lasting steroid (similar to cortisone) into the facet joints between the vertebrae of the spine. Facet joints are located at all levels of the spine: in the neck (cervical), in the upper back/torso (thoracic), and in the lower back (lumbar). They are paired (right and left) and are surrounded by a joint capsule, like the finger joints. Due to back injury, arthritis, or other causes, they may become inflamed and painful.

This is a common procedure. Because of the low risk and low incidence of any significant problems or side effects, this is felt to be a reasonable procedure to follow when traditional conservative therapy for disc pain has failed to provide improvement. A large percentage of patients upon whom this procedure is performed will get complete resolution of symptoms; a small percentage may experience no real improvement at all.

What is the purpose of it?

The purpose of a facet joint injection is twofold: to aid in the diagnosis of the source of the pain and to provide relief from the pain.

When the facet joints are numbed with local anesthetic during the procedure, the amount of pain relief experienced helps identify whether or not the joints are the source of pain.

In addition, the steroid injected reduces the inflammation in the joint space.  This can reduce pain and other symptoms caused by inflammation, such as nerve irritation. The pain relief experienced may help you better tolerate rehabilitation through physical therapy.

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