If your doctor thinks that your neck or back pain may be caused by the inflammation of one or more of your facet joints, he or she may recommend a facet injection or medial branch block procedure. The facet joints are located between each of the vertebrae in the spine, and they help the spine to move correctly.
Facet injection and medial branch block procedures are similar in that they can diagnose or treat problems in the facet joints. In a facet injection, a pain reliever (anesthetic) and anti-inflammatory (steroid) are injected directly into the facet joint capsule or the surrounding tissue. In a medial branch block, the medication is injected near the nerve that delivers the pain signals from the facet joint to the brain, called the medial branch nerve.
These procedures reduce the facet joint inflammation that is causing the pain and also block the pain signals from reaching the brain. Both procedures take between five and fifteen minutes, can be done in the office or surgery center, and do not require a hospital stay.
With facet injections and medial branch blocks, it is especially important to pay careful attention and record your pain levels after your procedure. This is because they can both be used as a diagnostic tool. You may get immediate and lasting pain relief from either of these procedures. However, you may get only temporary relief, in which case your doctor may suggest a radiofrequency ablation procedure. If you do not receive any significant relief from this procedure, your doctor may be able to rule out the facet joints as the source of your pain.