Facet Joint Syndrome
Facet joints are small joints that stabilize and prevent excessive motion of the spine. Just like most other joints in the body, these facet joints are lined with cartilage and surrounded by a fluid-filled capsule that allows the spine to bend and twist. Unfortunately, just like larger joints such as the knee, hips, and shoulders, these facet joints can also degenerate and become damaged, leading to facet joint syndrome. This is usually due to every day wear and tear, but can also be a result of acute injury or trauma to the neck or back, or because of degeneration of the intervertebral discs. Over time, facet joints become swollen, stiff, and inflamed, leading to chronic neck and back pain. As cartilage continues to deteriorate, the bones near these joints can rub against one another leading to bone spurs. Pain from cervical facet joint syndrome can manifest as pain in the neck, shoulders, between the shoulder blades and headache. Similarly, lumbar facet joint syndrome in the lower spine can cause pain in the low back, buttocks, and back of the thighs.
After conservative therapy is exhausted, we offer facet joint blocks, not only to diagnose the problem but to treat it as well. If non-surgical methods fail to relieve pain, facet joint rhizotomy may be an option for many patients.
What is Facet Joint Rhizotomy?
With this type of injection a needle with a probe is inserted just outside of the joint. This probe is then heated with radio waves. During this heating process, the sensory nerves that send pain signals to the brain are “shut off.” By “shutting off” the sensory nerve, pain signals are unable to reach the brain, which allows for longer lasting pain relief
After the procedure, localized numbness and some swelling may be present. Using ice and anti-inflammatories will help relieve these symptoms. Some patients receive pain relief within a few days, but for others it can take two to six weeks for pain relief. The hope is the patient will receive 50% or greater relief for a period of three to five months or longer. The nerves will eventually repair themselves and the procedure can be repeated approximately every six months if needed.