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At a Glance:
June 22, 2009


June 22, 2009


This case is decided pursuant to Chapter 410 of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act and Rules of the Division of Workers’ Compensation adopted thereunder.


A contested case hearing was held on June 22, 2009 to decide the following disputed issue:

  1. Is the preponderance of the evidence contrary to the decision of the IRO that the claimant is not entitled to facet joint blocks at L3-4 and L4-5 for the compensable injury of _________?


Petitioner/Claimant appeared and was assisted by RB, ombudsman. Respondent/Carrier appeared and was represented by KP, attorney.


Claimant sustained a compensable low back injury on _________. He has had multiple surgeries, including a fusion at L5-S1, the most recent a removal of hardware on October 9, 2008. Dr. H requested diagnostic facet joint blocks at L3-4 and L4-5. Pre-authorization was denied by the Carrier. The IRO doctor, board certified in orthopedic surgery, upheld the denial of the requested procedure.

Texas Labor Code Section 408.021 provides that an employee who sustains a compensable injury is entitled to all health care reasonably required by the nature of the injury as and when needed. Health care reasonably required is further defined in Texas Labor Code Section 401.011 (22a) as health care that is clinically appropriate and considered effective for the injured employee's injury and provided in accordance with best practices consistent with evidence based medicine or, if evidence based medicine is not available, then generally accepted standards of medical practice recognized in the medical community. Health care under the Texas Workers' Compensation system must be consistent with evidence based medicine if that evidence is available. Evidence based medicine is further defined in Texas Labor Code Section 401.011 (18a) to be the use of the current best quality scientific and medical evidence formulated from credible scientific studies, including peer-reviewed medical literature and other current scientifically based texts and treatment and practice guidelines.

In accordance with the above statutory guidance, the Division of Workers' Compensation has adopted treatment guidelines by Division Rule 137.100. This rule directs health care providers to provide treatment in accordance with the current edition of the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG), and such treatment is presumed to be health care reasonably required as defined in the Texas Labor Code. Thus, the focus of any health care dispute starts with the health care set out in the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG).

The ODG provides concerning facet joint diagnostic blocks:

Recommend no more than one set of medial branch diagnostic blocks prior to facet neurotomy, if neurotomy is chosen as an option for treatment (a procedure that is still considered “under study”). Diagnostic blocks may be performed with the anticipation that if successful, treatment may proceed to facet neurotomy at the diagnosed levels. Current research indicates that a minimum of one diagnostic block be performed prior to a neurotomy, and that this be a medial branch block (MBB). Although it is suggested that MBBs and intra-articular blocks appear to provide comparable diagnostic information, the results of placebo-controlled trials of neurotomy found better predictive effect with diagnostic MBBs. In addition, the same nerves are tested with the MBB as are treated with the neurotomy. The use of a confirmatory block has been strongly suggested due to the high rate of false positives with single blocks (range of 25% to 40%) but this does not appear to be cost effective or to prevent the incidence of false positive response to the neurotomy procedure itself. (Cohen, 2007) (Bogduk, 2000) (Cohen2, 2007) (Mancchukonda, 2007) (Dreyfuss, 2000) (Manchikanti2, 2003)

Etiology of false positive blocks: Placebo response (18-32%), use of sedation, liberal use of local anesthetic, and spread of injectate to other pain generators. The concomitant use of sedative during the block can also interfere with an accurate diagnosis. (Cohen, 2007)

MBB procedure: The technique for medial branch blocks in the lumbar region requires a block of 2 medial branch nerves (MBN). The recommendation is the following: (1) L1-L2 (T12 and L1 MBN); (2) L2-L3 (L1 and L2 MBN); (3) L3-L4 (L2 and L3 MBN); (4) L4-L5 (L3 and L4 MBN); (5) L5-S1: the L4 and L5 MBN are blocked, and it is recommended that S1 nerve be blocked at the superior articular process. Blocking two joints such as L3-4 and L4-5 will require blocks of three nerves (L2, L3 and L4). Blocking L4-5 and L5-S1 will require blocks of L3, L4, L5 with the option of blocking S1. (Clemans, 2005) The volume of injectate for diagnostic medial branch blocks must be kept to a minimum (a trace amount of contrast with no more than 0.5 cc of injectate), as increased volume may anesthetize other potential areas of pain generation and confound the ability of the block to accurately diagnose facet pathology. Specifically, the concern is that the lateral and intermediate branches will be blocked; nerves that innervate the paraspinal muscles and fascia, ligaments, sacroiliac joints and skin. (Cohen, 2007) Intraarticular blocks also have limitations due to the fact that they can be technically challenging, and if the joint capsule ruptures, injectate may diffuse to the epidural space, intervertebral foramen, ligamentum flavum and paraspinal musculature. (Cohen, 2007) (Washington, 2005) (Manchikanti , 2003) (Dreyfuss, 2003) (BlueCross BlueShield, 2004) (Pneumaticos, 2006) (Boswell, 2007) (Boswell2, 2007) See also Facet joint pain, signs & symptoms; Facet joint radiofrequency neurotomy; Facet joint medial branch blocks (therapeutic injections); & Facet joint intra-articular injections (therapeutic blocks). Also see Neck Chapter and Pain Chapter.

Criteria for the use of diagnostic blocks for facet “mediated” pain:

Clinical presentation should be consistent with facet joint pain, signs & symptoms.

  1. One set of diagnostic medial branch blocks is required with a response of ≥ 70%. The pain response should be approximately 2 hours for Lidocaine.
  2. Limited to patients with low-back pain that is non-radicular and at no more than two levels bilaterally.
  3. There is documentation of failure of conservative treatment (including home exercise, PT and NSAIDs) prior to the procedure for at least 4-6 weeks.
  4. No more than 2 facet joint levels are injected in one session (see above for medial branch block levels).
  5. Recommended volume of no more than 0.5 cc of injectate is given to each joint.
  6. No pain medication from home should be taken for at least 4 hours prior to the diagnostic block and for 4 to 6 hours afterward.
  7. Opioids should not be given as a “sedative” during the procedure.
  8. The use of IV sedation (including other agents such as midazolam) may be grounds to negate the results of a diagnostic block, and should only be given in cases of extreme anxiety.
  9. The patient should document pain relief with an instrument such as a VAS scale, emphasizing the importance of recording the maximum pain relief and maximum duration of pain. The patient should also keep medication use and activity logs to support subjective reports of better pain control.
  10. Diagnostic facet blocks should not be performed in patients in whom a surgical procedure is anticipated. (Resnick, 2005)
  11. Diagnostic facet blocks should not be performed in patients who have had a previous fusion procedure at the planned injection level.

The IRO doctor determined Claimant did not meet the ODG criteria for the requested procedure. The IRO doctor noted the ODG criteria limit the use of diagnostic blocks to patients with low-back pain that is non-radicular, and Claimant's records showed he had radiating leg pain with numbness in the legs. The requesting doctor's chart note for February 16, 2009 states he is recommending facet joint blocks at L3-4 and L4-5 "to try and identify the source and symptoms of 'popping' with pain radiating down the legs left (greater than) right". Claimant offered a letter of medical necessity from the requesting doctor stating the facet joint blocks were needed based on the doctor's years of experience as a spine surgeon. There was no showing of evidence based medical evidence to overcome the IRO decision.

Even though all the evidence presented was not discussed, it was considered. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are based on all of the evidence presented.


  1. The parties stipulated to the following facts:

A.Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.

B. On _________ Claimant was the employee of (Employer).

C.On _________ Claimant sustained a compensable injury.

D.The Independent Review Organization determined Claimant is not entitled to facet joint blocks at L3-4 and L4-5 for the compensable injury of _________.

  • Carrier delivered to Claimant a single document stating the true corporate name of Carrier, and the name and street address of Carrier’s registered agent, which document was admitted into evidence as Hearing Officer’s Exhibit Number 2.
  • Facet joint blocks at L3-4 and L4-5 is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of _________.

    1. The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, has jurisdiction to hear this case.
    2. Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office.
    3. The preponderance of the evidence is not contrary to the decision of the IRO that facet joint blocks at L3-4 and L4-5 is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of _________.


    Claimant is not entitled to facet joint blocks at L3-4 and L4-5 for the compensable injury of _________.


    Carrier is not liable for the benefits at issue in this hearing. Claimant remains entitled to medical benefits for the compensable injury in accordance with §408.021 of the Act.

    The true corporate name of the insurance carrier is SENTRY INSURANCE A MUTUAL COMPANY, and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is



    DALLAS, TEXAS 75201

    Signed this 22nd day of June, 2009.

    Thomas Hight
    Hearing Officer

    End of Document