Two of a kind
The lower back has several bones called vertebrae. Vertebrae stack on each other, helping to protect the spine and facilitate movement. A pair of facet joints exist on each side of the vertebra. Facet joints allow the spine to flex and extend ever so slightly. The facet joints also help strengthen and support the back.
Damaged joints lead to severe pain
These joints can become damaged due to injury or because of conditions like arthritis. When this happens, the facet joints are unable to promote flexibility and support. The facet joints work closely with the intervertebral discs. Persons can begin to experience degenerative discs, bone spurs, inflammation, and facet joint syndrome. These conditions can be painful over long periods.
Turning to medication
The facet joints can benefit from a shot of medicine. A facet joint injection does exactly that. This is a minimally invasive procedure that sends a strong steroid or anesthetic dose to the facet joints. The doctor uses a CT scan or an x-ray technique called fluoroscopy. These methods help guide the needle to the affected joint. In the case of fluoroscopy, the surgeon injects a contrast material first then takes a real-time x-ray. The medication is then injected into or near the joint. The process is an outpatient procedure and can take 30 minutes, with a few hours of observation.
Facet joint injection vs epidural spinal injection
Many confuse a facet joint injection with an epidural injection. Facet joint injections are a more precise procedure. A doctor will have confirmed the facet joints are the source of the pain. With an epidural injection, there is a problem with discs or pinched nerves. The steroid is injected into the epidural space, which is a gap between the bone and the dural sac. One goes straight to the bone, the other to a more general space.
Does it work?
Lower back pain can be debilitating. So patients welcome anything that can help ease the pain. A facet joint injection can bring much-needed relief in the first few days after the injection. In many patients, the relief can last several months. A patient can have subsequent injections, with no more than 3 per year. However, not all patients will benefit from injections, and the treatment may fail to bring the expected relief.
What if facet joint injections fail?
After the procedure, the patient will have a follow-up session with the doctor. During that time, the patient should take note of the effectiveness of the injection. If the injection fails to bring a significant change in pain, the doctor will proceed with additional tests. The goal is to determine the source of the pain. These tests include nerve tests, blood work, and further CT scans. Until then, physical therapy and exercise help strengthen the back to support the joints. Further treatments may be appropriate, including surgery.
Get the right help today
For the millions of people experiencing lower back pain, facet joint injection can be a game-changer. With this minimally invasive procedure, back pain sufferers can feel relief for months at a time. The injection may help if the issue is specifically related to the facet joints. Otherwise, alternative treatments may be appropriate. Speak with a doctor immediately for diagnosis and treatment for lower back pain.