What are Facet Joints?
Before we discuss facet injections, it’s important to discuss the facet joint anatomy. Facet joints are the small joints on each segment of the spine, responsible for spinal stability and mobility. The spinal column consists of one facet joint on each side of the vertebrae. These joints, in turn, are surrounded by soft cartilages and capsules with synovial fluids — components that facilitate smooth joint movements without friction. Facet joint pains occur when any of these components are compromised or damaged.
What are Facet Injections?
A facet injection consists of small amounts of a local anesthetic and steroid medicine. The corticosteroid and anesthetics identify the affected facet joints, reduce inflammation, and provide immediate relief from the pain. Facet injections serve two goals — diagnostic and pain relief.
- Diagnosis: The numbing agent in the injection identifies the facet joint responsible for the pain. If the injection leads to complete pain relief, the targeted facet joint is individually responsible. If it relieves a percentage of the pain, other facet joints might be affected, as well. And if there’s no pain, that indicates the targeted facet joint isn’t the problem.
- Pain Relief: While the local anesthetic serves the diagnostic function, the cortisone steroid serves the pain relief function. The time-release cortisone has anti-inflammatory properties, allowing it to reduce inflammation around the affected facet joint. This allows the injection to block the source of the pain.