Facet joint pain--advances in patient selection and treatment

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2013 Feb;9(2):101-16. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2012.198. Epub 2012 Nov 20.


Facetogenic pain, also known as zygapophysial joint pain, is a frequent cause of mechanical spine pain. Diagnostic blocks (for example, medial branch blocks [MBBs]) are the only reliable approach to identify facet joints as the source of neck or back pain. In the absence of a reference standard, MBBs actually serve more of a prognostic than diagnostic role, enabling the selection of patients who might respond to radiofrequency denervation treatment--the standard treatment for facet joint pain. Using double blocks reduces the false-positive rate of MBBs, but will invariably reduce the overall treatment success rate. No studies have evaluated non-interventional treatments for confirmed facetogenic pain, but data from studies in non-specific back pain suggest a modest, short-term beneficial effect for pharmacotherapy and some non-traditional treatments. Trials of intra-articular steroid injections for lumbar and cervical facet joint pain have yielded disappointing results, but evidence suggests that a subpopulation of patients with acute inflammation derive intermediate-term benefit from this therapy. Radiofrequency denervation provides some benefit for up to a year in approximately 60% of individuals. Increasing this success rate might involve enhancing diagnostic specificity and phenotyping, as well as techniques that increase the likelihood of successful nerve ablation, such as maximizing lesion size.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthralgia / therapy*
  • Catheter Ablation / methods
  • Denervation / methods
  • Disease Management*
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intra-Articular
  • Patient Selection*
  • Steroids / administration & dosage
  • Steroids / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Zygapophyseal Joint*


  • Steroids