Whether you’ve lived with back or neck pain for years or have recently developed it, there’s no denying that it can be utterly debilitating. And you’re not alone in your struggle against back pain — nearly 85% of people will experience some degree of back pain in their life.
Unfortunately, many spend years searching for reliable treatment with little to no success, and others simply accept back or neck pain as a part of their jobs or getting older.
At McNulty Spine, we don’t believe anyone should give up trying to find relief from their back or neck pain. Our specialist, Dr. Patrick McNulty, offers comprehensive back pain treatments and pain management therapies, including facet joint injections. Here’s a closer look at this minimally invasive treatment.
What are facet joints?
Before taking a closer look at facet joint injections, it’s best to understand the joints they target. Facet joints are the backside connections between the bones of your spine. Nerve roots that branch off from your spinal cord and into your arms arms and legs, pass under these joints.
They’re strong enough to protect these important nerve roots, yet pliable enough to allow you to bend and twist easily without letting your back and neck move out of alignment.
Like most of your other joints, your facet joints have a layer of cartilage between them lined with synovial and other lubricating fluids, allowing for frictionless movement.
Sometimes, whether by injury or degenerative conditions like arthritis, your facet joints become inflamed and painful. This can result in significant back or neck pain. It can also cause headaches, stiffness, pain in your thighs and buttocks, and pain into your shoulder blades.
Many of our patients report having to turn their whole bodies to look to the left or right and struggling to stand up straight or get out of a chair. They have difficulty looking up overhead, or moving their head side to side. Other common symptoms of facet joint syndrome include:
- Localized pain in the lower back or neck
- Referred pain in other areas of your body
- Sharp, radiating pain
- Posture problems
- Pain with activity
- Crepitus (creaking, cracking, crunching, and grating sounds in your joints)
Many of these symptoms overlap with other degenerative conditions, making the diagnosis process challenging. Dr. McNulty takes the time to understand your unique situation, health history, and symptoms. He takes detailed images of your spine to help establish an accurate diagnosis and pinpoint exactly what is causing your pain.
If he determines that your neck or back pain may syem from a facet joint issue, he typically recommends facet joint injection to relieve your pain, lessen associated inflammation, and establish the structural cause of your pain.
What are facet joint injections?
Facet joint injections are simple, routine procedures that Dr. McNulty performs on an outpatient basis. He delivers a small dose of a mixture of anesthetic (marcaine) and anti-inflammatory medicine (steroid) directly into your facet joint to quickly relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
When you arrive for your procedure, you lie down comfortably on your stomach (for low back) or back (for neck) on the procedure table. You may choose to be put to sleep or stay awake. Dr. McNulty marks the skin where the needle will be entering, and then sterilizes the area of your skin where he will inject the medicine.
With real time live x-ray called fluoroscopy, he accurately directs a thin needle into the affected facet joint, and confirms that the needle is in the correct position before slowly injecting the medication into your joint. He typically injects both joints on each side.
You spend approximately 20-30 minutes in recovery before being discharged. You are then asked to go and perform your typical pain provoking activities and document percent pain relief during the next four hours. Your pain relief should start occurring almost immediately.
You can return to your normal activities the day after your injection, but we recommend that you avoid driving for up to 24 hours. Talk to Dr. McNulty about any pain medication you’re currently taking, as he may ask you to limit the use of pain medication for a short period of time before and after the procedure so you can clearly assess the pain relieving effect of the injections. The anesthetic affect can last up to 12 hours.
4 to 12 hours after the injections, your pain may actually be worse for 1 to 2 days. This occurs because you were being more active than your typical self because of temporary pain relief. 1 to 2 days after the injection, the steroid effect starts and can provide more extended relief.
Dr. McNulty often recommends physical therapy and/or chiropractic treatment to complement the effects of the injection. Once your pain has improved, we strongly encourage you to start incorporating regular exercises into your routine to gradually strengthen your back muscles, improve cardio fitness, perhaps lose some weight, and lessen the stress on the facet joints and discs in your spine.
If you’d like more information about facet joint injections, call our Henderson or Las Vegas, Nevada, office or request an appointment online today.