Procedure:  Facet Injection


What is a Facet Joint Injection?

It is an injection of long lasting steroid medication into the facet joints – which are joints that connect the vertebrae.  They help to guide the spine when it move.  Facet joints are found on both sides of the spine and are about the size of a thumbnail. 


What is the purpose of it?

The steroid injected reduces the inflammation and/or swelling of the tissue in the joint space. This may in turn reduce pain and other symptoms caused by nerve inflammation/irritation of the joint and surrounding structures.


How long does the injection take?

The actual injection only takes a few minutes, but plan to be in the office for one to two hours.  This allows for patient's pre-op and recovery time as well.  The patient's driver must remain in the building during the procedure.


What is actually injected?

The injection consists of a mixture of local anesthetic (like lidocaine or bupivacaine) and the steroid medication (triamcinolone or methylprednisolone).


Will the injection hurt?

The procedure involves inserting a needle through the skin and deeper tissue (like a tetanus shot). While there is some discomfort involved, the skin and deeper tissues are numbed with a local anesthetic using a very thin needle prior to inserting the needle into the joint. Monitored Anesthesia Care (MAC) makes the procedure easy to tolerate.


Will I be “Put Out” for this procedure?

This procedure can be done under local or general anesthesia.  If you do not feel comfortable with just the numbing medication, we give the patient the option of intravenous sedation. The amount of sedation given generally depends upon the patient’s tolerance.


How is this injection performed?

The procedure is done with the patient lying on their stomach under live x-ray. The patient is monitored with an EKG, blood pressure cuff and blood oxygen monitoring device. The back is cleaned with antiseptic solution and then the injection is performed.


What should I expect after the injection?

Due to the local anesthetic injected during the procedure, patient might notice their pain may be gone or quite less immediately after. The patient may also feel sore for two to three days or even an increase in pain due to the mechanical process of needle insertion as well as initial irritation from the steroid itself.  Patient should start to notice pain relief within three to seven days.


What should I do after the procedure?

The patient should have a driver take them home. Coastal Bend Pain Management advises patients to take it easy for a day or two after the procedure, Patient is advised to apply ice to the affected area and perform activities as tolerated.


Can I go back to work the next day?

Yes, patient should be able to return to work unless the procedure was complicated.


How long does the effect of the medication last?

The steroid starts to work in about five to seven days and can last for several days to a few months.  The extent and duration of the pain relief may depend on the amount of disc, dural or nerve root inflammation.


How many injections do I have to have?

If the first injection does not relieve patient's symptoms in about a week or two, they may be recommended to come in for an office visit to discuss further options or have one more injection. Generally we do not repeat injections that do not help patient's symptoms. Patients can only have three to six injections a year.


Will the facet joint injection help me?

It is very difficult to predict if the injection will indeed help of not. Generally speaking, the patients with a recent onset of pain may respond better than the ones with a long standing history of pain.


What are the risks and side effects?

Generally speaking, this procedure is safe. However, with any procedure there are risks, side effects, and possibility of complications. The most common side effect is pain - which is temporary. The other risks involve infection, bleeding, worsening of symptoms, spinal block, epidural block, etc. Other risks related to the side effects of the steroid include weight gain, increase in blood sugar (mainly in diabetics), water retention, suppression of body’s own natural production of steroid, etc.


Who should not have this injection?

If the patient is allergic to any of the medications to be injected, if the patient have an infection going on, or if the patient are pregnant or suspect they might be pregnant, patient should not have the injection.