In August’s first sweaty blog, we discussed your facet joints and a problem that develops as we age known as facet joint syndrome. The facet joints connect our vertebrae on the back side, allowing the spine to bend forward and backward, while maintaining stability. Degeneration of our spinal discs between the vertebrae change the height between the vertebrae, which can allow compression of surrounding nerves and the development of issues with the facet joints — facet joint syndrome. Now the patient can develop pain in the area served by the compressed nerves.
Dr. Trujillo treats facet joint syndrome in our Show Lo patients. Here are the symptoms of facet joint syndrome, along with the treatments Dr. Trujillo uses to help overcome the pain.
What are the symptoms of facet joint syndrome?
Symptoms vary depending upon which area of the spine is affected.
- Cervical facet joint syndrome — Facet joint syndrome in the neck can produce neck and shoulder pain that can restrict your range of motion, making it difficult to rotate your head comfortably. Face joint syndrome in the cervical spine can also cause headaches.
- Thoracic facet joint syndrome — In the mid-back, problems with the facet joints usually create problems with range of motion. It may be necessary for the person to turn his or her entire body to look over their shoulder.
- Lumbar facet joint syndrome — Lower back pain is commonly linked to facet joint syndrome. You may feel pain in the lower back and sometimes in the buttocks and/or thighs. This pain typically will not extend below the knee. Inflamed facet joints will cause stiffness and make it difficult to perform routine movements such as rising from a chair. Pain will accompany initiation of many simple movements.
As is the case with the majority of patients, Dr. Trujilllo’s first treatment options are conservative measures. These treatments include rest, ice and/or heat application, anti-inflammatory medications (both non-prescription and prescription), and a course of physical therapy. Core strengthening exercises and low back stretching are key to alleviating and preventing facet syndrome.
If the above treatments aren’t successful at alleviating the patient’s pain, Dr. Trujillo will progress to minimally invasive nonsurgical therapies. These therapies include medial branch blocks, intraarticular (within a joint) steroid injections, and/or radiofrequency ablation. Blocks work on the medial branch nerves that are associated with the facet joints, blocking the pain messages they are sending to the brain. Intraarticular injections reduce pain by reducing inflammation at the site. Ablation uses radiofrequency energy to heat the nerves sending the pain signals. This blocks the signals for up to a year.
These treatments are typically effective in alleviating the patient’s pain. In rarer cases, surgery would be necessary. This would typically be spinal fusion to eliminate the troublesome facet joints by fusing two or more adjacent vertebrae.
Do you have symptoms of facet joint syndrome? Call Dr. Trujillo at Summit Healthcare Pain Clinic, (855) 768-4968, to schedule a consultation.