A facet joint is an interlocking joint in the back of the spine that is formed between each set of two adjacent vertebrae. The purpose of a facet joint is to permit a person to be able to bend and twist and maintain flexibility in the spine and torso.
When the facet joints are healthy, they are covered with cartilage which allows the vertebrae to move smoothly against one another, and they are lubricated with synovial fluid to help protect the cartilage from wear and tear.
Sometimes these facet joints swell and become painful, and this is usually caused by osteoarthritis – which is then called facet joint syndrome. This degeneration can be caused by a number of factors such as aging, overuse, overload, and injuries or trauma.
One of the most popular treatments for this type of inflammation and pain is the facet joint injection. Let’s talk about what this is and why it can help your back pain.
How Does a Facet Joint Injection Work?
If conservative (noninvasive) measures to treat your back pain have proven ineffective, your orthopedist may recommend fluoroscope-guided facet joint injections. These are done by having you lie down on your stomach, and then the doctor will use a fluoroscope to guide the needle into proper placement inside the facet joint that is causing the pain. The physician will then inject the medication.
Facet joints are actually fairly deep in the back, and they are covered by thick fibrous muscles. That is why the guidance from the fluoroscope is necessary to ensure correct placement, and to avoid injuring the spine. Once the placement is confirmed, the anesthetic or steroid is injected into the facet joint.
Upon injection, it is very likely that the pain will go away immediately. If the pain is still present, then another facet joint is likely affected. These injections, once performed in the proper facet joint, can provide relief for up to several months.
Symptoms of Facet Joint Pain
Because of the role they play, when a person has problems in their facet joints, it can make bending over and twisting – such as putting on socks and shoes – very painful. Facet joint inflammation happens most frequently in either the neck (the cervical facet joints) or the lumbar spine (the lower-back facet joints).
Facet joint problems can also make it impossible to turn the head to the left or right. The patient may therefore have to pivot their entire torso in order to be able to look to the side. When it affects the lumbar area, it can make straightening the back or getting up out of a chair extremely difficult.
Orthopedic Surgeons in Maryland
If you have back pain or neck pain that prohibits you from being able to twist your torso or to move your head, or if you have trouble straightening your back or getting up from sitting in a chair, there is a good chance it is a facet joint causing the problems. Facet joint injections may be the solution to get you moving around properly again.