The value of SPECT scans in identifying back pain likely to benefit from facet joint injection.
Dolan AL., Ryan PJ., Arden NK., Stratton R., Wedley JR., Hamann W., Fogelman I., Gibson T.
Lumbar facet disease is sometimes implicated in low back pain. Identification is difficult and this may account for a variable response. Single photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) is a scanning technique which enables localization of facet joint pathology. We determined whether recognition of facet disease by this method improved the response to corticosteroid injection treatment. Fifty-eight patients with low back pain and displaying accepted clinical criteria for facet joint disease were evaluated by SPECT. Twenty-two had facetal uptake of isotope. These and the tender facet joints of 36 scan-negative patients were injected with 40 mg methylprednisolone and 1 ml 1% lignocaine under X-ray control. Pain was assessed by a blind observer using the McGill questionnaire (MGQ), Present Pain Intensity score (PPI) and a Visual Analogue Scale (VAS). VAS, PPI and MGQ were reduced in the scan-positive patients at 1 month (P = 0.05, P = 0.0005, P = 0.005) and MGQ at 3 months (P = 0.01), whilst scan-negative patients were unchanged. The percentage of scan-positive patients who reported improvement was 95% at 1 month and 79% at 3 months, significantly greater than the control group (P = 0.0005, P = 0.01). Within 6 months, pain improvement in the SPECT-positive group was no longer statistically significant. Tenderness did not correlate with increased uptake on SPECT scan. Osteoarthritis of the facets was more common in the SPECT-positive patients (P < 0.001), but did not correspond with sites of increased uptake on SPECT scan. These results suggest that SPECT can enhance the identification of back pain sufferers likely to obtain short-term benefit from facet joint injection.