Facet blocks, including intraarticular and medial branch blocks, are frequently used before radiofrequency ablation, but their validity as a predictive tool is unproven
Recently, the evidence supporting radiofrequency ablation has come under great scrutiny
What This Article Tells Us That Is New:
This randomized study establishes the lack of long-term efficacy for intraarticular and medial branch facet blocks but suggests the possibility that when used as prognostic tools, these injections may possibly provide superior outcomes before radiofrequency ablation on some measures compared to control blocks
Background: With facet interventions under scrutiny, the authors’ objectives were to determine the effectiveness of different lumbar facet blocks and their ability to predict radiofrequency ablation outcomes.
Methods: A total of 229 participants were randomized in a 2:2:1 ratio to receive intraarticular facet injections with bupivacaine and steroid, medial branch blocks, or saline. Those with a positive 1-month outcome (a 2-point or more reduction in average pain score) and score higher than 3 (positive satisfaction) on a 5-point satisfaction scale were followed up to 6 months. Participants in the intraarticular and medial branch block groups with a positive diagnostic block (50% or more relief) who experienced a negative outcome proceeded to the second phase and underwent radiofrequency ablation, while all saline group individuals underwent ablation. Coprimary outcome measures were average reduction in numerical rating scale pain score 1 month after the facet or saline blocks, and average numerical rating scale pain score 3 months after ablation.
Results: Mean reduction in average numerical rating scale pain score at 1 month was 0.7 ± 1.6 in the intraarticular group, 0.7 ± 1.8 in the medial branch block group, and 0.7 ± 1.5 in the placebo group; P = 0.993. The proportions of positive blocks were higher in the intraarticular (54%) and medial branch (55%) groups than in the placebo group (30%; P = 0.01). Radiofrequency ablation was performed on 135 patients (45, 48, and 42 patients from the intraarticular, medial branch, and saline groups, respectively). The average numerical rating scale pain score at 3 months was 3.0 ± 2.0 in the intraarticular, 3.2 ± 2.5 in the medial branch, and 3.5 ± 1.9 in the control group (P = 0.493). At 3 months, the proportions of positive responders in the intraarticular, medial branch block, and placebo groups were 51%, 56%, and 24% for the intraarticular, medial branch, and placebo groups, respectively (P = 0.005).
Conclusions: This study establishes that facet blocks are not therapeutic. The higher responder rates in the treatment groups suggest a hypothesis that facet blocks might provide prognostic value before radiofrequency ablation.