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Thoracic Facet Injection

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Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections are performed to reduce mid-back pain. Facet injections can help localize the pain generator, improve flexibility, and enhance function thus enabling patients to pursue physical therapy and return to work or leisure activities. Its main mechanism is to decrease inflammation of the facet joint(s), which may be related to degenerative changes, injury, or deformity (scoliosis/kyphosis/remote fracture). Painful facets often cause pain on one side of the spine. At times, the presentation is on both sides in which case each side is treated separately (1-2 weeks apart). For optimal outcome, it is encouraged to couple facet injections with an organized physical therapy program, improved desk ergonomics, proper lifting techniques, and modification in pillow and sleeping surfaces. If Thoracic facet injection helps, other treatments including Radiofrequency Ablation(RFA) treatments can be offered which may last longer than steroid Injections.


The risk associated with Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections

It is important to know the risks associated with any medical or surgical treatment. , There are a few risks associated with Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections but they tend to be rare. Risks include but are not limited to:


  • Immediate or delayed allergic reaction to medications used

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Nerve Injury

  • Dural puncture

  • Pneumothorax

  • Temporary increase in pain

  • High blood sugar levels

  • Transient vaginal spotting

  • Transient facial flushing

  • Vascular uptake of particulate steroid, cord ischemia


The infection rate is less than 1% in patients receiving spinal injections performed under sterile conditions. The bleeding complication is more common in patients with a history of bleeding disorders, patients being treated with anticoagulant/antiplatelet medications, and patients taking an over-the-counter medication like Motrin and Aspirin. The frequency of injury to the nerve roots or spinal cord is substantially reduced with the use of fluoroscopy and contrast material. It is rare to encounter nerve root or spinal cord injury with epidural injections. The rate of nerve injury and spinal cord injury is higher in obese patients due to poor visualization of the target on lateral X-rays. Dural puncture is an infrequent complication and may result in a positional headache (headache in seated and standing position but not in laying down position). This type of headache is often self-limiting, but in some persistent cases, a blood patch may be necessary to alleviate the pain. When injections are done in the thoracic area there is a possibility that the spinal needle reaches the covering of the lungs, creating a condition called pneumothorax (entrapment of air outside the lungs). Treatment for these complications often includes close inpatient hospital monitoring and placement of a chest tube to allow for proper lung expansion. Elevated blood sugar is a known effect of steroid medication and may last for 2-4 days after the injection of steroids. Patients on insulin will adjust for the elevated sugar levels by utilizing a sliding scale. Patients on oral medication should follow advice from their Primary Care Provider regarding a temporary increase in oral medication to accommodate for elevated sugar levels.


Although rare, patients who have been taking oral steroids for several months are at an increased risk for the following side effects:


  • A transient decrease in immunity

  • Stomach ulcers

  • Severe arthritis of the hips (avascular necrosis)

  • Cataracts • Increased appetite

  • Agitation and irritability

  • Negative effect on bone density increasing the risk for fractures


WHO SHOULD AVOID Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections?


Facet Injections should not be performed on patients with the following conditions:

  • Allergies to local anesthetics or steroids

  • Local or systemic bacterial infections

  • Pregnancy

  • Bleeding disorders

  • Tumors

  • Uncontrolled congestive heart failure or diabetes

  • When the risk of holding certain mediations (Aspirin, antiplatelet drugs/blood thinners) outweighs benefit of the procedure

PREPARE FOR YOUR Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections


Certain medications have to be held before elective spinal procedures. A list of such medications is included on the last few pages of this educational handout. It is required that you ask your Primary Care Provider and/or Cardiologist if it is safe to stop such medication before the procedure. Continue to take all other medications, especially your blood pressure and diabetes medications.


A sample of medications that have to be held includes:


  1. Aggrenox® (dipyridamole)

  2. Aspirin

  3. Coumadin® (warfarin)

  4. Effient® (prasugrel)

  5. Fragmin® (dalteparin)

  6. NSAIDS (see below)

  7. Herbal blood thinners

  8. Heparin 9. Eliquix (apixaban)

  9. Lovenox® (enoxaparin)

  10. Plavix® (clopidogrel),

  11. Pradaxa® (dabigatran)

  12. Ticlid® (ticlopidine)


NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, nabumetone, diclofenac, etodolac, indomethacin, ketorolac, meloxicam, piroxicam, ketoprofen, oxaprozin)


Please let us know if you have had a fever, antibiotic treatment, any illness or hospitalization within the last 4 weeks. You must be healthy and off all antibiotics on the day of the procedure.


Make sure you are not pregnant at the time of procedure. Perform a urine pregnancy test the night before your spinal injection and report the results to the nurse before the procedure. Exposure to X-ray (used during spinal procedure) is known to result in birth defects and possible miscarriage. If you are uncertain, cancel and reschedule your procedure until you can confirm that you are not pregnant.


DAY OF YOUR Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections


  • Please take a shower, wash the skin with normal soap and DO NOT put skin lotions or medicated creams in the area of the injection. Wear dark, loose clothing and undergarments.

  • Arrive 30 minutes early and come with someone that can give you a ride home. The procedure should take less than 30 minutes and your total time from greeting to end should be less than 90 minutes.

  • Bring your latest MRI/CT imaging studies and written reports with you.

  • Have available an updated list of your medications and allergies. Please let the medical staff know if you are allergic to contrast, iodine or latex.

  • Do not eat or drink for 2 hours before your appointment. Diabetics may have a light meal (lower than your usual meal calorie and fat content).

  • After check-in, an identification wristband containing your name and allergies will be placed on your wrist. A nurse or medical assistant will review your current medications, allergies and ask screening questions. Afterward, a nurse will discuss final preparation before the procedure. If necessary an intravenous line will be inserted, particularly if this is your first spinal procedure.

  • In rare cases, oral sedation is needed to reduce anxiety associated with the procedure. This will slow down the entire process. Be sure to take the medication 1 hour before the procedure. It is required that someone be present to drive you to and from the procedure. Without a ride, procedure may be canceled.

DURING THE Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections


  • A gown will be provided for you to put on. You will be escorted to the procedure room by a nurse where a consent form will be reviewed/signed before the procedure. You will then be asked to lay on your stomach.

  • A blood pressure monitor and pulse oximeter will be placed on your arm/finger. The medical equipment makes loud noises (beeping, alarms) and you should not be concerned.

  • Intermittently, your doctor will talk to staff in the procedure room and instruct them to perform tasks. Your doctor will guide you through the procedure step by step.

  • After standard time out, your skin will be disinfected with a cool solution and sterile sheet of paper or plastic will be placed onto your skin.

  • When your doctor is ready, the X-ray unit is placed over your spine to identify the target.

  • Skin will be marked and anesthetized (you will feel small pinch and burning sensation at each spot). It is normal to feel pressure or muscle spasms as the needle is advanced to the final target.

  • Once the needle is at radiographic target, a small amount of contrast is injected to confirm the final needle position before injecting steroid medication. You may feel transient pressure in your spine or down your leg.

  • Once procedure is completed, needle is removed, skin is cleaned and Band-Aid is applied. You are then transferred back to the recovery area for observation.

RIGHT AFTER THE Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections


  • You will be observed for 15-45 minutes.

  • If you have an intravenous line, it will be removed.

  • A nurse will check your vitals and review the discharge instructions with you as well as answer any questions you may have.

  • You will be given a pain log and a copy of the discharge instruction which contains emergency contact numbers. Please do not discard your discharge instructions.

  • A responsible adult must drive you home.




  • Make a follow-up 2-3 weeks after the procedure and bring your pain log with you.

  • After the procedure do not drive or operate machinery for at least 24 hours.

  • If sedated, do not make financial or important life decisions until the effect of such medication is cleared (24 hours).

  • Do not participate in strenuous activity on the day of procedure.

  • It is okay to shower after the procedure. No bathing/submerging under water for 48 hours.

  • You may remove the bandages 24 hours after the injection. Call if there is excessive redness or signs of infection like warmth, discharge or collection of puss at the site of injection.

  • You may resume your normal diet and medications.

  • Continue your blood thinners/anticoagulants/antiplatelets as instructed by your Primary Care Provider or Cardiologist. You may need to check INR/PT/PTT 2-3 days after your procedure. Contact your Primary Care Provider and ask when you should have blood work.

  • Diabetics should monitor blood sugar levels 3 times a day for 3 days after the procedure.




  • Shortness of breath or palpitations after procedure

  • Sudden weakness in the legs, face or arm following the procedure

  • Fever over 101°F within 5 days after procedure

  • Persistent redness, increased localized pain, or discharge from the site of injection.

  • Possible allergic reaction within 5 days of the procedure

  • Intractable headache

  • Significant increased pain not responding to ice, NSAIDS or pain medications

  • Newly developed incontinence of urine or stool following procedure


Most insurance require prior authorization to cover Thoracic Facet Steroid Injections (Medicare beneficiaries require no authorization). Your doctor will provide information to insurance company for approval. It takes anywhere between 3-15 days for approval.


You will likely have a copayment, coinsurance and deductible for this type of treatment. You will also receive two medical bills related to these types of treatments (Ambulatory SurgiCenter bill and doctor bill). Please call your insurance company to understand your benefits.


The codes used for this procedure are: CPT: 64490, 64491, 64492 and 77003


Keywords: Thoracic Facet Injection, Zygapophyseal joint Injection Patient Instructions for Temporary Holding Medications before Spinal Procedures/Injections




The decision to discontinue or hold medications should be shared between the spine specialist, patient, and prescribing doctor (usually Primary Care Provider, Cardiologist or Neurologist). These medications are held for a specific period of time to limit bleeding complications during and within the first 24-72 hours after the procedure. We follow nationally recognized guidelines including ASRA, American Society Pain Medicine, the European Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Therapy, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, and the World Institute of Pain.


If you are on any of the following medications, please discuss with the prescribing doctor whether or not you are allowed to hold the medication for indicated amount of time prior to the procedure. You may resume the medication after your spinal procedure as indicated below.

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