With LA Pain Specialist, relief can be provided in the form of a Facet Block.
Known as facet joints, the joints of the spine allow the spine and its supporting discs to bend and twist with daily movements. Facet joints that are healthy have cartilage to prevent vertebrae from grinding. Conditions such as arthritis and facet syndrome can:
- Irritate facet joints
- Damage cartilage
- Contribute to pain resulting from irritation of nearby nerves
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Why a Facet Block is Done
A facet block may be done for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. When used for diagnostic purposes, it’s done to determine if your discomfort is likely due to facet syndrome or a similar problem that may affect spinal joints. For therapeutic purposes, it’s used to minimize pain enough so you can benefit from other treatments, including physical therapy to improve joint, spine, and soft tissue strength. The injection is called a “block” because it anesthetizes the facet joints and blocks your pain if spinal joints are what’s causing it.
How It’s Done
If you are anxious about the procedure, you may be given medication via an IV to relax you. During the procedure, a numbing agent, or local anesthetic, is used to numb the area of the spine where the injection will be placed. Live X-ray guidance, referred to as a fluoroscopy, will be used to ensure safe and proper placement of the needle. Anti-inflammatory medication will then be slowly injected into the joint. Contrast dye will confirm that the medication is in the facet joint.
What Happens After It’s Done
After a brief recovery period, you will be asked to make the movements that usually cause your pain to determine if the block had any effect. Results may be noticed within a few hours if one or more of the facet joints injected is the source of your back, neck, or radiating nerve pain. You will experience little or no relief if there are other sources of your discomfort other than facet joints. If this is the case, other attempts at identifying the source of your pain will be made. Such efforts may include nerve conduction studies and muscle testing.
Should the injected joint be the cause of your pain, you will likely notice immediate relief with the local anesthetic and continued relief once the anti-inflammatory medication takes effect, which may take about a week. Patients are usually advised to avoid taking any pain medication for the first several hours after the injection so results can be accurately interpreted and linked to the facet block. Risks associated with facet blocks are minimal. There may be some discomfort at the injection site, but it’s usually temporary.
As your pain improves, you’ll likely be encouraged to begin a regular exercise routine to strengthen muscles that directly or directly support your spine. Consider keeping a pain diary so you can provide more details about your experience with a facet block during follow-up visits. If facet blocks prove to be effective, radiofrequency neurotomy may be recommended as an option for prolonged pain relief.