Closeup side view of doctor examining a hip during an appointment. The doctor is gently lifting patient's leg sideways.What is it?

There are three joints along the spine that are considered “facet joints”—the cervical (located at the top of the spine in the area of the neck), thoracic (located in the upper spinal area), and the lumbar (located along the bottom portion of the spine). When pain is found to be radiating from any of these areas, it’s possible there’s inflammation in one of those facet joints or spinal arthritis. Diagnosing and/or relieving the source of the pain as a facet joint problem can be achieved by administering a facet joint injection.

What to expect

Upon arriving for the procedure, the patient will change into a hospital gown and be instructed to lie face down on the table. The procedure is performed while the patient is awake, but a local anesthetic is administered once the site of the injection has been cleaned. Patients with anxiety may receive an IV of medicine to help with relaxation. Fluoroscopy, ultrasound, or MRI along with contrast is most likely used to guide the needle to the proper place in the joint to deliver anti-inflammatory medicine.

Following the procedure, you may feel numbness or soreness at the injection site. Diabetics may experience an increase in blood glucose levels. Pain relief in the facet joint may take up to two days.

How to prepare

Patients will be asked to withhold pain medication on the day of the procedure. Plans should be made for transportation, as you will not be able to drive after receiving your injection.

In this outpatient procedure, you can expect to spend about half an hour preparing for and receiving the injection, and then up to an hour the injection in observation as the health team evaluates the results and effects of the procedure on your pain and overall health. The procedure is considered to be safe enough to receive up to three such injections within a year, if needed.