Lumbar Facet Joint Blocks: Weighing Up Potential Risks

One of the absolute joys of the internet is that there is so much information around. However, to a large extent this is very much a double edged sword. Although you will be able to find much information about how safe a lumbar facet joint block is, conversely you will also find a good deal of information that gives the worst case scenario. Having a lumbar facet joint block is extremely safe. It is regarded as being a minimally invasive procedure, since there is no surgery, nor is there any need for a general anaesthetic. But there are some very low risk conditions that may present, although ti si vital that these are seen in context. This is a guide to the risks and an assessment of their severity.

The first two possible risks are the risk of allergic reaction and of the needle giving an infection when it enters the skin. But the risks of these are quite low and the allergic reaction may be nothing more than an itch; it is exceptionally rare for people to have severe allergic reactions. Infections and allergic reactions are around 1 in 7,000 so these are by no means common. But there are some less common reactions as well !

The person undergoing the injection may find that the insertion point is slightly uncomfortable for a few days (but even this is quite rare).

Sometimes there can be a sense of the patient experiencing hot flushes.

Patients with arthritis may find that their arthritis becomes worse, but sometimes this could simply be coincidental and may not have been caused by the lumbar facet joint injection.

Exceptionally rarely bleeding can occur or even higher blood pressure, but these are luckily so rare that they almost never happen.

Patients may also read that paralysis may occur. Again the risk of this actually happening is infinitesimal but patients do need to be told that it can occur. However, it is important to look at the context.

Weighing Up the Benefits

Instead of concentrating on the things that can go wrong, it can be useful to look at what can go right. If (or rather when) the lumbar facet joint injection is successful, it can substantially reduce pain levels as well as increase mobility in the spine.

The reduction of pain and increased mobility and flexibility usually far outweighs the discomfort felt with a lumbar facet joint block. If the choice is a needle and some discomfort for a short time, or pain and decreased spine flexibility forever, then it looks like a simple choice!

Risks 24/7

Without wishing to appear cavalier, it is also important to put risks into their context. All of us face risks every day; anyone who crosses the street faces all kinds of risks, every time we go in or drive a car we face risks. The only way to completely avoid risks is to stay in bed with the duvet over us, but then we face the risk of muscle wastage and so on. So unfortunately we cannot avoid risks in our lives; they are a natural part of life and people should not be deterred from lumbar facet joint blocks because they fear the risks!

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