An updated review of the diagnostic utility of cervical facet joint injections

Pain Physician. 2012 Nov-Dec;15(6):E807-38.


Background: Chronic persistent neck pain with or without upper extremity pain is common in the general adult population with a prevalence of 48% for women and 38% for men, with persistent complaints in 22% of women and 16% of men. Multiple modalities of treatment are exploding in managing chronic neck pain along with increasing prevalence. However, there is a paucity of evidence for all modalities of treatments in managing chronic neck pain. Controlled studies have supported the existence of cervical facet or zygapophysial joint pain in 36% to 60% in heterogenous population of these patients. However, these studies also have shown false-positive results in 27% to 63% of patients with a single diagnostic block.

Study design: A systematic review of diagnostic cervical facet joint nerve blocks.

Objective: To evaluate and update the accuracy of diagnostic facet joint nerve blocks in the diagnosis of facet joint pain.

Methods: A methodological quality assessment of included studies was performed using Quality Appraisal of Reliability Studies (QAREL). Only diagnostic accuracy studies meeting at least 50% of the designated inclusion criteria were utilized for analysis. Studies scoring less than 50% are presented descriptively and critically analyzed. The level of evidence was classified as good, fair, and limited or poor based on the quality of evidence developed by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).Data sources included relevant literature identified through searches of PubMed and EMBASE from 1966 to June 2012, and manual searches of the bibliographies of known primary and review articles.

Results: Overall, a total of 26 manuscripts were considered for diagnostic accuracy evaluation and 9 manuscripts for studies evaluating various factors influencing the diagnostic validity of facet joint interventions. Based on 9 studies meeting the inclusion criteria utilizing 75% to 100% pain relief as the criterion standard with controlled blocks, the evidence is good for diagnostic accuracy of cervical facet joint pain, with a prevalence of 36% to 60% with a false-positive rate of 27% to 63% with a single block. Based on 2 studies from the same group of authors, the evidence for 75% to 100% pain relief as the criterion standard with a single block is limited. The evidence is limited for a single diagnostic block with 50% to 74% pain relief as the criterion standard, whereas no studies were available assessing the accuracy of 50% to 74% pain relief as the criterion standard with controlled blocks.

Limitations: The limitations of this systematic review include a paucity of literature on outcomes, randomized, placebo-controlled trials and a lack of consensus on a gold standard.

Conclusions: Diagnostic cervical facet joint nerve blocks are safe, valid, and reliable. The strength of evidence for diagnostic facet joint nerve blocks is good with the utilization of controlled diagnostic blocks with at least 75% pain relief as the criterion standard; however, the evidence is limited for single blocks or dual blocks for relief of 50% to 74% and single blocks with at least 75% pain relief.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cervical Vertebrae
  • Chronic Pain / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Neck Pain / diagnosis*
  • Nerve Block*
  • Zygapophyseal Joint*