What are cervical facet joints?

Facet joints connect the vertebrae, the bones of the spine. They help guide your spine when you move. The neck area of the spine is called the cervical region. It contains seven vertebrae.

Facet joints are found on both sides of the spine. Each is about the size of a thumbnail. Cervical faced joints are named for the vertebrae they connect and the side of the spine where they are found. The left C2 – 3 facet joint, for example joins the 2nd and 3rd vertebrae on the left side.

What is cervical facet joint pain?

You may feel pain if a cervical facet joint is injured. Sometimes it feels like muscle tension. Other times it can be severe pain. The cartilage inside the joint may be injured. Other times only connecting ligaments surrounding the joint are injured. Facet pain also depends on which facet joint is affected. Cervical facet pain can occur in an area from your head down to your lower shoulder blade.

How do I know if I have cervical facet pain?

 If you have pain in one or more of these areas when you turn your head or neck, and at last longer than 2 months, you may have cervical facet pain. Common tests such as x-rays or MRIs may not always show if a facet joint is causing pain.

What is Cervical RFA?

 RFA uses radiofrequency energy to disrupt nerve function. When this is done to a cervical medial branch nerve, the nerve can no longer transmit pain signals from an injured facet joint.

What happens during an RFA?

An IV may be inserted to administrator intravenous medications to help your lax. A local anesthetic will be used to numb your skin. Fluoroscopy, a type of x-ray, will be used to insure the safe and proper position of the needle. The doctor will then check that the needle is in the proper position by the stimulating nerve. This may cause muscle twitching and provoke some of your pain. With the needle in the correct position, the area will be numbed. Your doctor will then use radiofrequency energy to disrupt the medial branch nerve. 

What happens after a RFA?

You will be monitored for up to 30 minutes after the RFA. When you are ready to leave the staff will give you the discharge instructions. You may feel sore for one to four days. This is normal, and may be caused by muscle and nerve irritation.  Your neck or upper back may feel numb, weak, or itchy, for a couple of weeks. Be patient, as  full pain relief normally yikes two to three weeks.

How long can I expect pain relief?

While it varies from patient to patient, the nerves can take up to 18 months to regenerate after a RFA.  Your pain may or may not return when the nerves regenerate.  If it does, another RFA can be done.

This article is for general education only. Specific questions or concerns should always be directed to your doctor. Your doctor can explain possible risks or side effects. 

Skip to content