Facet Block Injections

Arthritis of the back and neck are among the most common sources of spinal pain. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), up to 85 percent of Americans aged 60 or older suffer from cervical spondylosis, or arthritis of the neck.

While this condition cannot be cured, there are several methods to treat the pain associated with spondylosis or an arthritic back. Often, doctors begin with conservative methods such as physical therapy and the use of acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory medications.

However, when these first-step methods do not work, a physician might recommend steroid injections to relieve or eliminate pain from osteoarthritis in the neck or back. One common type of steroidal injection for the relief of back pain is a facet block injection.

What is a Facet Block Injection?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints of the body. This can occur in the small joints of the fingers and toes, as well as the larger joints of the wrists, knees, and shoulders, and even in the joints of the spine.

The human spine is made up of the spinal cord, surrounded by bones called vertebrae, spinal discs that cushion the bones, and joints called facet joints that allow for flexibility and movement of the spine.

Over time, the discs can begin to flatten and lose height or begin to bulge. The facet joints begin to degenerate as a typical process of aging and will lose cartilage. When these facet joints lose cartilage, it can cause the vertebrae to rub against each other, causing pain, stiffness, and other problems.

Arthritis can occur anywhere in the back—the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (mid-back), or the lumbar spine (lower back). However, the pain from damaged joints of the spine may radiate to the extremities.

One option for treating the pain from degenerative osteoarthritis in the back is the use of a steroid injection called a facet block.

A facet joint injection may be utilized for either diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. For example, a physician may inject the suspected damaged joint with anesthetic (facet block) to see if that injection improves the patient’s pain. If so, then a damaged facet joint was likely the problem. If not, the physician knows to look further for the root of the patient’s symptoms.

For therapeutic reasons, a doctor would then inject the facet joint with a steroid medication to provide longer lasting relief.

In some cases, doctors may wish to follow up with another procedure, called radiofrequency ablation to destroy the affected nerves and prevent them from sending pain signals to the brain. Radiofrequency ablation is a more permanent solution, but it may not be necessary in every case.

Figuring Out if a Facet Block Injection is Right for You

Talk to your doctor about whether a facet block injection may be the right solution for your back pain and to discuss the benefits and risks of available treatment options.