It can be easy to take your ability to move for granted. When we engage in everyday activities, such as bending, twisting, and reaching, we rarely stop to think about the countless synchronized functions required to make our spine work — until it doesn’t.
Back pain plagues up to 80% of Americans every year, and the many possible causes range from strained muscles to severe injuries. One of the potential culprits is inflammation or damage of the facet joints in the spine.
Our pain management specialists at CHOICE Pain & Rehabilitation Center understand the unique pain that stems from these joints, and we may be able to give you relief with facet block injections.
What are facet joints?
Your spine is made of a series of “hinges” called facet joints. They come in pairs and sit between each of your vertebrae. Facet joints are responsible for your trunk’s movement, allowing you to twist, bend, and extend, but they also keep you from exaggerating those movements by limiting the range of motion to avoid injury.
Like a live version of Jenga®, bony protrusions from the upper and lower vertebrae fit together in the joint and are joined by ligaments. In short, facet joints connect your 26 vertebrae into one long spinal column.
What could cause facet joint pain?
Two of the most common causes of pain in the facet joints are osteoarthritis and whiplash.
As your body ages, it can begin to show signs of wear and tear, and naturally that will tend to affect the parts that move the most — your joints. Osteoarthritis wears down the smooth, slippery cartilage inside your facet joints, which means that the bones end up rubbing against one another.
This can lead to inflammation, pain, and bone spurs. This can crowd the space in the facet joints and spinal column, a condition called spinal stenosis. It can also compress the nerves running through the area and cause pain that can radiate to other parts of your body, a condition called radiculopathy.
A common car crash injury, whiplash occurs when your head and neck snap forward and back violently. This sudden action can damage soft tissues in your neck, and it can also result in facet joint damage.
You’ll likely feel soreness at the back of your neck, but slightly to one side or the other. You may also have arm or shoulder pain, neck stiffness, and headaches. If you are prone to migraines, facet joint injuries may trigger them or make them more severe. If whiplash has injured your facet joints, facet block injections will help us confirm this.
Facet block injections 101
At CHOICE Pain & Rehabilitation Center, we approach spine pain on an individual, case-by-case basis. We will perform a complete evaluation of your medical condition, your health history, and your symptoms before developing a customized treatment plan for you.
If we suspect you have a facet joint injury, we can use facet block injections for two purposes: to help diagnose your condition as well as help treat it.
Facet block injections as a diagnostic tool
Pain from the facet joints is often generalized and difficult for patients to explain. If more conservative treatments fail to bring pain relief ― such as pain relievers ― and other conditions have been ruled out, our team can inject an anesthetic into your joint or in the area where your medial nerves branch out from the joint. If this stops the pain, then we know for sure that the problem is in the facet joint.
Facet block injections to treat pain
The anesthetic in the injection gives most people immediate pain relief as long as the facet joint is, indeed, the source of the pain. The injection also contains a corticosteroid that will kick in within a few days to give you longer-lasting relief.
If this helps, our team can administer a radiofrequency medial branch neurotomy. With this procedure, a needle-thin probe is inserted into the problem area, and the probe heats the nerve feeding your facet joint to deaden the pain.
What to expect from a facet block injection
We will give you a numbing agent to make sure you don’t feel the insertion of the needle. Then, using X-ray technology, we will guide the needle to exactly the right spot and add the anti-inflammatory medication.
If your facet joint is the source of your pain, you should feel immediate relief, or at least some improvement within a few hours. If you don’t get any pain relief from the injection, we will continue with more diagnostic tests to pinpoint your pain.
If you have back or neck pain that you can’t resolve with conservative treatments, book an appointment online or over the phone with CHOICE Pain & Rehabilitation Center to find out if facet block injections might be able to help you.