The facet joints are joints that connect the sides of the vertebrae. They are quite important and if they are healthy enough, facet joints provide with stability and give the spine the ability to bend or twist. Similarly to any other joint in the body, the facet joint comprises two surfaces of the adjacent vertebrae and a thin layer of cartilage (which is located between the previously mentioned surfaces). The entire joint is placed into a sac-like capsule filled with synovial fluid.
When are Facet Joint Injections Indicated?
Facet joint injections may be used for diagnosing certain conditions (e.g. identifying the source of back pain) and they are also used for therapeutic purposes.
Facet joint injection is quite effective when it comes to determining whether the facet joint is an actual source of back pain. By injecting a small amount of anesthetic into the facet joint, the doctor checks whether the pain will subside or not. In case the pain alleviates, the facet joint is definitely the source of back pain.
Facet joint injections used for therapeutic purposes include application of certain drugs (anesthetics or anti-inflammatory medications). Such treatment provides with desirable pain relief.
How are these Injections Applied?
Facet joint injections are applied once the patient is given a local anesthetic. This way the communication between the doctor and the patient is preserved. In order to reach the exact site of facet joint, the doctor uses fluoroscope. The treated area is sterilized. What follows is injection of an anesthetic or anti-inflammatory medication into the desirable area. Injection does not last too long ( approximately a few minutes), but together with the preparation the entire procedure may extend to half an hour or even an hour.
Side Effects of Facet Joint Injections
As it is the case with any procedure that includes injection of certain medications, even facet joint injections may have some side effects. The most common ones include pain at the injection site, bleeding and infections. Some patients report worsening of back pain after the procedure.
Steroid medications (anti-inflammatory drugs applied by facet joint injections) may trigger facial flushing, low-grade fever, hiccups and insomnia. Additional side effects associated with injection of steroids include headache, water retention, increased appetite, increased heart rate and abdominal cramping or bloating. Fortunately, the previously mentioned side effects are only temporary and withdraw within 1-3 days after the procedure.
It is essential to know to differentiate the actual side effects of facet joint injections from normal body reaction to the treatment. And finally, it is best if patients abstain from any higher intensity activities and sports for at least 2 weeks after the procedure.