Effectiveness of Lumbar Facet Joint Blocks and Predictive Value before Radiofrequency Denervation: The Facet Treatment Study (FACTS), a Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trial

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Abstract

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.

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