Cervical medial branch blocks for chronic cervical facet joint pain: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial with one-year follow-up

Laxmaiah Manchikanti, Vijay Singh, Frank J E Falco, Kimberly M Cash, Bert Fellows
Spine 2008 August 1, 33 (17): 1813-20

STUDY DESIGN: A double-blind, randomized, controlled trial.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the clinical effectiveness of therapeutic local anesthetic cervical medial branch blocks with or without steroid in managing chronic neck pain of facet joint origin.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: The prevalence of persistent neck pain, secondary to involvement of cervical facet or zygapophysial joints, has been described in controlled studies as varying from 39% to 67%. Intra-articular injections, medial branch nerve blocks, and neurolysis of medial branch nerves have been described in managing chronic neck pain of facet joint origin.

METHODS: A total of 120 patients were included, with 60 patients in each of the local anesthetic and steroid groups. All the patients met the diagnostic criteria of cervical facet joint pain by means of comparative, controlled diagnostic blocks, and the inclusion criteria. Group I consisted of medial branch blocks with bupivacaine. Group II consisted of cervical medial branch blocks with bupivacaine and steroid. Numerical pain scores, Neck Disability Index, opioid intake, and work status were evaluated at baseline, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months.

RESULTS: Significant pain relief (>or=50%) and functional status improvement was observed at 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months in over 83% of patients. The average number of treatments for 1 year was 3.5 +/- 1.0 in the nonsteroid group and 3.4 +/- 0.9 in the steroid group. Duration of average pain relief with each procedure was 14 +/- 6.9 weeks in the nonsteroid group, and it was 16 +/- 7.9 weeks in the steroid group. Significant relief and functional improvement was reported for 46 to 48 weeks in a year.

CONCLUSION: Therapeutic cervical medial branch nerve blocks, with or without steroids, may provide effective management for chronic neck pain of facet joint origin.

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