Facet Joint Injections vs. Radiofrequency Ablation: Which Is Right for My Lower Back Pain?

Facet Joint Injections vs. Radiofrequency Ablation: Which Is Right for My Lower Back Pain?

The prevalence of lower back pain in the United States is very high — between 60% and 90% of people will encounter the problem at some point, but half of these people will find relief in a week or two. Lumbar facet joints are responsible for 15% to 45% of cases for those who are unlucky enough to suffer from chronic lower back pain.

If you have chronic lower back pain that stems from facet joint dysfunction, you want to explore your treatment options. The good news is that there are non-surgical approaches to relieving your pain, and Dr. Anjum Bux and the team here at Bux Pain Management offer two of the most popular — facet joint injections and radiofrequency ablation.

Here’s a look at how each relieves your lower back pain.

Facet joint injections

Your facet joints are two small joints found at each vertebral level. Like other joints in your body, these structures can succumb to damage through injury or degenerative processes like arthritis.

With a facet joint injection, we deliver a steroid and a local anesthetic into the joint to tackle inflammation and provide you with pain relief.

To deliver the joint injection, we use fluoroscopy, or live X-ray, to guide the needle into the right area. Rest assured, we first apply a topical anesthetic so that you won’t feel discomfort at the injection site.

If the injections are on target, you should experience relief within a few days to a week, and this relief can last a few weeks or a few months, at which point you can return for another round of injections.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)

A longer-term approach to managing your facet joint pain is typically found in an RFA procedure or a radiofrequency neurotomy. With the RFA procedure, we target the overactive nerve fibers sending the pain signaling with radiofrequency energy. This energy burns the end of the nerve fibers, creating an adhesion that prevents the nerve from signaling.

We perform the RFA procedure the same way as we deliver facet joint injections. After making you comfortable on the treatment table and applying a topical anesthetic, we use fluoroscopy to guide a needle into position. Once in position, we send radiofrequency energy through the needle to ablate the nerve endings.

After your RFA procedure, you should realize results within 7-10 days, and these results can last 6-12 months or more. It’s difficult to predict how long your results will last as it depends upon whether your nerve grows back and how quickly.

Using facet joint injections and RFA together

In many cases, we first use a facet joint injection to determine whether we’ve correctly identified the nerves giving you problems. If you find meaningful relief after your injection, we can move forward and give you longer-term results with RFA. Of course, you can continue with your joint injections if you’d prefer.

Ultimately, the best way to figure out which treatment is right for you is to see us for an evaluation. During this visit, we can assess the damage in your facet joints, discuss your symptoms and goals, and devise a plan to help you move again without lower back pain.

To get started, please contact one of our four offices in Lexington, Cynthiana, Maysville, or Danville, Kentucky.

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