Therapeutic facet joint interventions in chronic spinal pain: a systematic review of effectiveness and complications

Mark V Boswell, James D Colson, William F Spillane
Pain Physician 2005, 8 (1): 101-14

BACKGROUND: Facet joint interventions are used frequently for managing chronic spinal pain. Evidence continues to accumulate supporting the clinical effectiveness of these procedures and defining potential complications.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effectiveness of three types of facet joint interventions (facet joint injections, medial branch blocks and facet joint neurotomy) in managing spinal pain.

STUDY DESIGN: A systematic review utilizing the criteria established by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) for evaluation of randomized and non-randomized trials and Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group for randomized trials.

METHODS: Data sources included relevant literature of the English language identified through searches of MEDLINE and EMBASE (January 1966 to November 2004), manual searches of bibliographies of known primary and review articles, and abstracts from scientific meetings within the last 2 years. Analyses were performed for the different modes of facet joint interventions of cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, to determine short- and long-term outcome measurements and complications associated with the procedures.

OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome measure was pain relief. For facet joint injections and medial branch blocks, short-term pain relief was defined as relief less than 6 weeks, and long-term as 6 weeks or longer. For medial branch radiofrequency neurotomy, short-term relief was defined as pain relief of less than 3 months, and long-term as 3 months or longer. Other outcome measures included functional improvement, improvement of psychological status, and return to work.

RESULTS: For lumbar intraarticular facet joint injections, there was moderate evidence for short-term improvement, and limited evidence for long-term improvement. The evidence was negative for cervical intraarticular facet joint injections. For cervical and lumbar medial branch blocks with local anesthetics and steroids, the evidence was moderate. The evidence for pain relief with radiofrequency neurotomy of medial branch nerves was moderate to strong.

CONCLUSION: The evidence for facet joint interventions ranged from negative to strong.

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