Facet Joint Injections

Facet joint injection is an injection of a long-acting steroid and local anesthetic in the facet joints located in the back area as a part of the bony structure. This is done by using X-ray so the joints can be identified.

The facet joints are the joints in your spine that make your back flexible and enable you to bend and twist. Nerves exit your spinal cord through these joints on their way to other parts of your body. Healthy facet joints have cartilage, which allows your vertebrae to move smoothly against each other without grinding.

What is the purpose of facet joint injections?

The injected steroid reduces the inflammation and/or swelling of the tissue in the joint space. This may in turn reduce pain and other symptoms caused by inflammation/irritation of the joint and surrounding structures.

How long does the injection take?

The actual procedure takes about 30 minutes, but patients should be prepared to stay for two to three hours.

What is actually injected?

A mixture of depo-medrol (steroid) and bupivacaine (local anesthetic).

Will the injection(s) hurt?

The procedure involves inserting a needle through skin and deeper tissues so there is some discomfort involved. However, the skin and deeper tissues are numbed with a local anesthetic using a very thin needle prior to inserting the needle into the joint. Most patients also receive intravenous sedation during the procedure, which makes the procedure easy to tolerate.

Will I be "put out" for the procedure?

Before the procedure, an IV will be started. During the procedure, most patients will receive intravenous sedation, which makes the procedure easy to tolerate. The amount of sedation given generally depends on a patient's tolerance and medical conditions.

How is the injection performed?

Patients are monitored with EKG, a blood pressure cuff, and blood oxygen monitoring device. The back is cleaned with an antiseptic solution. The injection is then carried out under X-ray guidance. After the injection, patients are placed on their back or side and monitored for about an hour.

What should I expect after the injection?

Immediately after the injection, you may feel that your pain is greatly reduced or gone. This is because of the local anesthetic injected and will last only for a few hours. Your pain will return and you will have a "sore back" for a day or two. Soreness is caused by the mechanical process of needle insertion as well as initial irritation from the steroid itself. You should start noticing pain relief within three to four days. Also, most people have some muscle spasms for the first 48 hours after the block. These spasms are treated with muscle relaxants and heating pads.

What should I do after the procedure?

You will need someone to drive you home. We advise patients to limit activity for the rest of the day after the injection. We discourage driving and walking for the first 24 hours.

Can I return to work the next day?

You should be able to return to normal activities the next day.

How long will the effects of the medication last?

The immediate effect is usually from the local anesthetic injected. This wears off in a few hours. The steroid starts working in about three to four days, and its effect can last for several days to a few months.

How many injections do I need to have?

Most patients have the first injection, followed one month later by another injection, and then a third injection at three months, if the injections are beneficial. Further injections may be needed and will be scheduled depending on the amount and duration of pain relief.

Can I have more than three injections?

Generally, we perform three to four injections in a year's time. Giving more could increase the likelihood of side effects from the steroids.

Will the Facet Joint Injection help me?

Will the Facet Joint Injection help me? It is very difficult to predict if the injection will indeed help you or not. Generally speaking, the block is performed on patients who have a history, physical exam and radiological evidence (MRI, CT, X-ray) consistent with the facet disease in order to maximize the benefit from the block.

What are the risks and side effects?

Generally speaking, this procedure is safe. However, with any procedure there are risks, side effects, and the possibility of complications. The most common side effect is temporary pain. The other risks involve infection, bleeding, possible worsening of symptoms and allergic reactions. Other risks are related to the side effects of steroids including weight gain, increase in blood sugar (mainly in people with diabetes), water retention, suppression of body's own natural production of cortisone, etc. Fortunately, the serious side effects and complications are uncommon.

Who should not have this injection?

If you are allergic to any of the medications to be injected, or if you have an active infection, you should not have the injection. If you are on Coumadin, you should notify the clinic at least five days prior to your appointment.

Make an Appointment

The NMMC Pain Institute triage specialists can ensure you are connected with the right specialist to treat your pain. Call (662) 377-PAIN (9246) to get started.