Prevalence of cervical facet joint pain in chronic neck pain

Pain Physician. 2002 Jul;5(3):243-9.


Neck pain is considered to be one of the most common chronic pain conditions in modern society. Various structures identified as capable of transmitting pain in the cervical spine include facet joints, intervertebral discs, nerve root dura, ligaments, fascia, and muscles. The prevalence of cervical facet joint pain in patients with chronic pain after whiplash has been determined as 54% to 60%. However, the prevalence of chronic cervical facet joint pain has not yet been determined in a heterogenous population or in patients with cervical spine pain of idiopathic origin in a controlled environment. This study evaluated 160 patients seen in one interventional pain management practice in a non-university setting. Cervical facet joints were investigated with diagnostic blocks using lidocaine 1% preservative free initially, followed by bupivacaine 0.25%, usually 2 to 4 weeks apart. The study population consisted of 76 women and 30 men aged 43 +/- 13 years of age (mean +/- SD). Mode of onset of neck pain was determined as following a traumatic incident in 48% of the patients, whereas it was with gradual onset without an identifiable specific incident in the remaining 55 patients (52%). Eighty-one or 70% of the patients (70%) reported a definite response to lidocaine blocks. Confirmatory blocks with bupivacaine were performed in 81 patients with 64 patients with 60% of the total sample, or 79%, of the lidocaine-positive group reporting definite response with improvement in their pain. Thus, a prevalence rate of facet joint pain in chronic neck pain was determined to be 60% (95% CI, 50%-70%), with a false positive rate of controlled diagnostic blocks of 40% (95% CI, 34%-46%).