Facet Joint Syndrome


This condition is a deterioration of the facet joints, which help stabilize the spine and limit excessive motion. The facet joints are lined with cartilage and are surrounded by a lubricating capsule that enables the vertebrae to bend and twist.

What Causes Joint Damage?

Facet joint syndrome occurs when the facet joints become stressed and damaged. This damage can occur from everyday wear and tear, injury to the back or neck or because of degeneration of an intervertebral disc.

Spondylosis is another degenerative spine condition resulting from age as well as normal wear and tear. Spondylosis can affect the spine at any level, resulting in pain and discomfort that can grow worse over time.

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What are the Symptoms of Facet Joint Syndrome?

In facet joint syndrome, the joint structure has begun to break down, causing arthritic changes to the affected area of the spine. Where there are structural changes, the nerves that exit the spine can become aggravated. This can result in a host of different symptoms. Yours may include a dull ache that gets worse with certain movements. Facet joint syndrome may cause muscle spasms or weakness. It may cause a tingling or burning sensation and may affect your mobility and range of motion. The area of your symptoms will relate to the part of the spine that is affected by the joint deterioration. Low back pain, for example, is a common symptom of lumbar facet joint syndrome. In more severe cases, symptoms may radiate away from the arthritic joint.

How is Facet Joint Syndrome Diagnosed?

When you consult with a back specialist about chronic symptoms, you can expect a thorough discussion about your lifestyle and medical history. Your doctor may ask about any known injuries or other events that could have led to an injury. During your visit, your doctor will need to know details about your symptoms, including when they began, when they occur, and how long they typically last. Tell your doctor if you have had previous back problems or treatments or have existing medical conditions. After reviewing your health history, your doctor will perform a spinal examination in which they gently touch and press on your back to evaluate tender spots. They may test your muscle reflexes in the arms or legs, and may also have you stand or bend or perform various movements that enable them to thoroughly evaluate your posture and range of motion. Imaging may also be ordered to confirm the suspected diagnosis. Another way to diagnose facet joint syndrome is to inject the affected segment of the spine with an anesthetic. If this technique alleviates pain, your doctor may determine that you have facet joint degeneration.

What are My Treatment Options?

Your doctor's preference is to treat your back or neck symptoms using non-operative methods if at all possible. After diagnosing facet joint syndrome, your doctor may discuss treatment options such as rest, the use of anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and other conservative modalities. Depending on the severity of your condition, surgery may be discussed.

Who is at Risk for Developing Facet Joint Syndrome?

People of any age can develop facet joint syndrome, especially if lifestyle habits include heavy lifting, pushing, or poor posture. That said, most people who present with this condition are older. The presence of degenerative disc disease increases the risk of facet joint syndrome, as does having a family history of degenerative arthritis.

What Happens if Facet Joint Syndrome is Left Untreated?

The primary concern related to untreated facet joint syndrome is the development of bone spurs. These small bone growths can cause the spinal canal that houses the spinal cord to narrow. The resulting pressure on the spinal cord can lead to secondary symptoms beyond what you're already experiencing. Bone spurs can be treated with clinical intervention, but our preference is to address the breakdown of the facet joints using the most conservative methods possible. We can do this when you come and talk to us about your symptoms earlier rather than later.

Is Facet Joint Syndrome Dangerous?

This condition is not typically viewed as being dangerous. However, because it involves the breakdown of one or more joints in the spine, facet joint syndrome should be taken seriously. If the breakdown is not addressed with lifestyle changes and conservative modalities, the chances of progressive symptoms like pain and limited mobility increase.

What are the Effects of Cartilage Loss?

The cartilage that covers the stressed facet joints gradually wears away. The joints become swollen and stiff. The vertebral bones rub directly against each other, which can lead to the growth of bone spurs along the edges of the facet joints.

What Are The Symptoms of Cervical Facet Joint Syndrome?

Pain from facet joint syndrome differs depending on which region of the spine is damaged. If the cervical, or upper spine is affected, pain may be felt in the neck, shoulders, and upper or middle back. The person may also experience headaches.

What Are The Symptoms of Lumbar Facet Joint Syndrome?

If the lumbar, or lower spine, is affected pain may be felt in the lower back, buttocks and back of the thigh.

What Is The Treatment For Facet Joint Syndrome?

Facet joint syndrome is first treated conservatively with rest, ice, heat, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy.

In addition, facet joint blocks may be administered not only to diagnose facet joint pain but also to treat it. Summit Health Care Pain Clinic Associates offers Radio Frequency Ablation for back pain. If non-surgical methods fail to relieve pain, a facet rhizotomy or bone fusion may be performed.

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