The facet joints are the joints located between and on either side of the spine bones or vertebrae, located where two vertebrae meet. These joints enable the spine to remain flexible, allowing the neck and torso to bend, flex and twist. The nerves that travel through the spine exit the spine where these joints come together. Sometimes, facet joints can become diseased or damaged by injury, arthritis or everyday wear and tear. When that happens, friction in the joints can increase, resulting in local and widespread pain and other symptoms.
Facet joint problems can cause symptoms near the facet joints as a result of inflammation and irritation in the joints and the tissues that surround them. Plus, as the joint becomes damaged, it can also press on the nerves that exit the spine at that point, resulting in radiating pain, numbness, and tingling or burning sensations in the arms, legs or other areas of the body.
Facet joint blocks are injections of steroids (anti-inflammatory medicines) and pain relievers administered to the facet joint spaces. The injections are guided by x-ray and usually performed as an outpatient procedure. Facet joint blocks can be repeated to provide ongoing relief of pain, and they can also be used to help pinpoint the precise location of pain.
Facet joint blocks usually take a half hour or less to perform. During the procedure, the patient will lie on his or her belly and an IV may be used to deliver sedatives or fluids. The injection site will be cleansed, and a local anesthetic will be administered to numb the area. Next, the needle will be advanced to the facet joints using an x-ray to monitor its placement. Once the location of the needle is verified, the medication is injected. After the injection is complete, the needle is removed and a small bandage is placed over the injection site. Patients are discharged after spending a brief period in a recovery area.