Facet joint degeneration is a condition that affects all of us as we age. The deterioration of joint cartilage in the spine is a natural process and, for many people, painful symptoms will never be a problem. Some of us, however, find that the breakdown of joint cartilage produces discomfort, such as throbbing, aching, joint stiffness, or joint locking in the back and neck. Although the pain may be mild and sporadic at first, progressive facet joint degeneration can be a debilitating and life-altering condition.
As our facet joints degenerate, our body tries to reinforce the spinal column by manufacturing extra growths of smooth bone. These are osteophytes, more commonly called bone spurs. Bone spurs in and of themselves are not painful, but they can begin to infringe on the foraminal spaces, which are the open canals on either side of each vertebrae that allow the passage of spinal nerves. As these spaces get narrower, the nerves become compressed. Neural stress is what ultimately causes the pain associated with bone spurs.
Facet joint osteoarthritis – another form of facet joint degeneration, can cause another set of painful symptoms. Osteoarthritis is the erosion of cartilage on facet joints. Void of cartilage, facet joint surfaces are allowed to rub directly against each other. This friction can lead to irritation of the medial branch nerves, which are the nerves that transmit pain signals directly to facet joints.
If your doctor diagnoses you with facet joint degeneration, he or she may suggest surgical options. There are such a variety of procedures available, that the decision to undergo facet joint surgery can become a stressful and frustrating process. Let’s explore a surgery called facet joint ablation, which is also referred to as facet joint denervation. Basically, this procedure is aimed at targeting the medial branch nerves that feed into the facet joints. These nerves can safely be cauterized because they only carry pain signals – and do not have anything to do with facet joint function. During a facet denervation procedure, a heat source is used to deaden medial branch nerves of the affected facet joint, meaning that the sensation of throbbing or aching is eliminated.
If you think that bone spur removal and facet joint denervation may be the right choice for you, the experts at Laser Spine Institute (LSI) would like to talk to you about our minimally-invasive, endoscopic procedures that accomplish these very goals. Contact us today for a free review of your MRI or CT scan.