Background: Chronic spinal pain is common along with numerous modalities of diagnostic and therapeutic interventions utilized, creating a health care crisis. Facet joint injections and epidural injections are the 2 most commonly utilized interventions in managing chronic spinal pain. While the literature addressing the effectiveness of facet joint nerve blocks is variable and emerging, there is paucity of literature on adverse effects of facet joint nerve blocks.
Study design: A prospective, non-randomized study of patients undergoing interventional techniques from May 2008 to December 2009.
Setting: A private interventional pain management practice, a specialty referral center in the United States.
Objectives: Investigation of the incidence in characteristics of adverse effects and complications of facet joint nerve blocks. The study was carried out over a period of 20 months including almost 7,500 episodes of 43,000 facet joint nerve blocks with 3,370 episodes in the cervical region, 3,162 in the lumbar region, and 950 in the thoracic region. All facet joint nerve blocks were performed under fluoroscopic guidance in an ambulatory surgery center by 3 physicians. The complications encountered during the procedure and postoperatively were evaluated prospectively.
Methods: This study was carried out over a period of 20 months and included over 7,500 episodes or 43,000 facet joint nerve blocks. All of the interventions were performed under fluoroscopic guidance in an ambulatory surgery center by one of 3 physicians. The complications encountered during the procedure and postoperatively were prospectively evaluated.
Outcomes assessment: Measurable outcomes employed were intravascular entry of the needle, profuse bleeding, local hematoma, dural puncture and headache, nerve root or spinal cord irritation with resultant injury, and infectious complications.
Results: There were no major complications. Multiple side effects and complications observed included overall intravascular penetration in 11.4% of episodes with 20% in cervical region, 4% in lumbar region, and 6% in thoracic region; local bleeding in 76.3% of episodes with highest in thoracic region and lowest in cervical region; oozing with 19.6% encounters with highest in cervical region and lowest in lumbar region; with local hematoma seen only in 1.2% of the patients with profuse bleeding, bruising, soreness, nerve root irritation, and all other effects such as vasovagal reactions observed in 1% or less of the episodes.
Limitations: Limitations of this study include lack of contrast injection, use of intermittent fluoroscopy and also an observational nature of the study.
Conclusion: This study illustrate that major complications are extremely rare and minor side effects are common.