You might need a spinal injection if you have pain that has not responded to physical therapy or other treatments. An alternative to back surgery, spinal injections can be used to:
- Diagnose your pain. Your doctor will inject numbing medicine (anesthetic) into 1 or more specific areas of your spine, blocking all feeling in those areas. If the pain is relieved, the doctor will better understand the source and how to treat it. If not relieved, then there may be a different source that may require more or different types of injections for a sound diagnosis.
- Relieve your pain. Your doctor can use spinal injections to relieve your pain, reduce swelling, or improve mobility. An anti-inflammatory medicine, such as cortisone, is injected directly into the place the pain comes from. Depending on the medicine injected, you may feel pain relief right away, or it may take a few days or more to take effect. Pain relief may be temporary (lasting several weeks or months) or long lasting.
- If your facet joint injection is for diagnosing pain, you should feel relief right away from the anesthetic, but the relief will end in about an hour or so. You may need more than one injection for the doctor to diagnose the pain.
- If your facet joint injection is for reducing inflammation and relieving pain, it can take a few days, or even a week, to feel relief. Your pain will go away slowly and steadily.
- The injection may not relieve all your pain, but it may relieve enough of the pain to allow you to move around more easily. This can help you recover faster.
- How long you can expect pain relief to last depends on how many areas are injured and the amount of inflammation you have. Some people may need more than one injection to feel relief.
Different types of spinal injections carry different risks. Your doctor will explain the specific risks of your procedure. These potential risks are common to many spinal injections:
- Nerve problems that cause arm or leg weakness
- Increasing feelings of numbness
- Briefly increased pain or severe increased pain
- A type of post-injection headache (“spinal headache”)
- Bleeding, infection (rare)
- Spinal cord injury
The actual injection takes only a few minutes, but plan on 30 to 60 minutes for the whole procedure. You will remain awake and able to communicate the entire time. Your procedure will include:
- Monitoring. You may have devices attached to you to check your heart rate and breathing.
- Sedative. You may be given a sedative to help you relax.
- Position. You may lie face down, face up, or on your side.
- Local anesthetic. You’ll be given a local anesthetic near the injection site to numb the skin. This usually feels like a pinprick with some burning and only lasts a second.
- Fluoroscopic x-ray guidance. The doctor may inject a contrast dye that helps identify specific parts of your spine and confirm correct needle placement.
- Injection. Numbing medicines or anti-inflammatory medicines (steroids) will be injected into your spine.
Facet joint injections are given where two vertebrae join together. These joints allow the spine to bend and twist. Facet joint injections can decrease inflammation caused by arthritis and joint degeneration.
Before a facet joint injection, you may be given a diagnostic injection called a medial branch block near a nerve leading from the facet joint. This helps determine if a facet joint injection might relieve your pain. Your doctor may also recommend a radiofrequency neurotomy [noo-rot-uh-mee], which disables a spinal nerve so it can no longer send pain signals.