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Facet Joint Injection

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What is a facet joint injection?

A facet joint injection is an injection of an anti-inflammatory steroid (e.g., Dexamethasone or Triamcinolone) in the facet joints. The facet joints, also known as the zygapophysial joints, are part of the bony framework of the spine. They are small bony projections from one vertebra meeting with similar bony projections from the vertebra above or below. Sometimes, due to a variety of acute and chronic conditions, the facet joints can become inflamed. For lower back (lumbar) facet joints, the pattern of pain is usually an achiness in the low back, radiating across the lower back and slightly down the back of the buttocks and upper thighs. Usually, standing or bending backward worsens the pain. For neck (cervical) facet joints, the pattern of pain is an achiness in the neck, slight radiation across the neck and shoulders, and worsening symptoms with turning the head from side to side or looking up.

How long does it take to do?

The actual injection takes only a few minutes. Please allow about an hour for the procedure; this will include talking to your doctor before the procedure, signing the informed consent, positioning in the room, and observation by the recovery room nurse afterwards.

What medicines are injected?

The injection consists of a mixture of local anesthetic (e.g., Bupivacaine) and the steroid medication (Celestone).

Will it hurt?

All of our procedures begin by injecting a small amount of local anesthetic through a very small needle. It feels like a little pinch and then a slight burning as the local anesthetic starts numbing the skin. After the skin is numb, the procedure needle feels like a bit of pressure at the injection site. If you experience any pain during the procedure, your doctor will inject more local anesthetic as needed.

Will I “be asleep” for this procedure?

This choice is yours. You can choose to have the procedure done under local anesthetic only. You can also choose to have IV sedation, which can keep you very comfortable. It can range from some drowsiness or you may have little or no memory of the procedure depending upon your comfort level, regardless of the amount of sedation, you must not eat or drink anything for 6 hours prior to this and you must also have a driver when choosing sedation. It is OK to take your medications with a sip of water with either decision.

How is it done?

It is typically done with you lying on your stomach. Your blood pressure and oxygenation will be monitored. In addition to your doctor and the x-ray technician, there will be a nurse in the room. The skin on the back is cleaned with antiseptic solution and then the procedure is done. Very small needles are placed within the joint capsule and a small volume (usually about 1 mL) is placed in each joint.

What should I expect after the injection?

Shortly after the injection, you may notice that your pain may be gone or considerably less. This is due to the effect of the local anesthetic and lasts only for a few hours. Your pain may return and you may have some soreness at the injection site for a day or so. You should start noticing pain relief starting about 1-2 days after the procedure.

What should I do after the procedure?

We advise the patients to take it easy for a day or so after the procedure. Perform the activities as tolerated by you. Your recovery room nurse will advise you about applying ice to the site.

Can I go back to work the same day or the next day?

You should be able to unless the procedure was complicated. Your doctor or recovery room nurse will discuss this with you.

How long does it last?

The long-term effect of the medication cannot be predicted. Usually, the immediate effect is from the local anesthetic injected. This wears off in a few hours. The steroid starts working in about 2-7 days and its effect can last for some time.

How many injections do I need to have?

This will vary with each patient; your doctor will discuss this with you.

Can I have more than one injection?

If the first injection is successful but the pain returns, you may be eligible for another injection, if you had relief from pain for a reasonable period of time. Your doctor will discuss this with you.

How will I know if it will help?

It is very difficult to predict how helpful injections will be. Generally, patients who have the symptoms described above will do well. Obviously, since there are several pain generators in the spine, the degree of response will vary widely.

What are the risks and side effects?

Overall, this procedure has very few risks. However, as with any procedure, there are some risks and side effects you should know about. Commonly encountered side effects are increased pain from the injection (usually temporary), rarely inadvertent puncture of the “sack” containing spinal fluid (may cause headaches), infection, bleeding, nerve damage, or no relief from your usual pain. Side effects of the injected steroid may include temporary weight gain, temporary increase in blood sugar (mainly in diabetics), temporary water retention; you can discuss the steroid medication more completely when you come in for your injection. Some people experience flushing, sweating and/or palpitations for a few days.

Who should not have this injection?

The following patients should not have this injection: if you are allergic to any of the medications to be injected, if you are on a blood-thinning medication (e.g. Coumadin, injectable Heparin), or if you have an active infection going on. With blood thinners like Coumadin, your doctor may advise you to stop this for 4-7 days beforehand or take “bridge therapy” with Lovenox prior to the procedures. Anti-platelet drugs like Plavix may have to be stopped for 5-10 days prior to the procedure.

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