Facet joint ablation is a procedure that is aimed at vaporizing the nerves that carry pain signals directly to a facet joint. This procedure is beneficial for conditions like spinal osteoarthritis, which causes localized joint pain in the neck and back.
A facet joint is the place where vertebrae in the spine connect with each other. Facet joints allow vertebrae to pivot and slide against one another, enabling a fairly wide range of movement in the neck and back. Facet joints are served by small nerves called medial branch nerves. These nerves carry pain signals directly to the brain from the joints.
One condition that can trigger the medial branch nerves to signal pain is facet joint osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the wearing down of cartilage on joints, and when cartilage wears away, bones are left to rub directly on each other. Bone-on-bone rubbing of facet joints can inflame medial branch nerves, resulting in intense facet joint pain.
Medial branch nerves can be surgically eliminated so that facet joint pain is reduced – yet the facet joints themselves will remain fully functional. Destroying a medial branch nerve is similar to how an endodontist eliminates a nerve during a root canal. The tooth remains functional, but the pain-carrying nerve does not.
The vaporization of a medial branch nerve is called facet joint ablation. Laser Spine Institute performs a minimally invasive procedure called facet thermal ablation; during this procedure, our surgeons use lasers to cauterize an inflamed medial branch nerve.
Facet thermal ablation at Laser Spine Institute begins with a small incision, and a small tube is inserted into the incision. The diseased facet joint is then thoroughly cleaned, making sure that any torn cartilage or other anatomical debris is cleared away. Next, a small laser is funneled through the tube and heat from the laser is used to desensitize the medial branch nerves that innervate the affected joints. Because this is a minimally invasive procedure, there is no trauma to or tearing of the surrounding muscles. Facet joint ablation can be performed on an outpatient basis.
Often, patients forget that the time after facet joint surgery is as important as time spent in surgery. With facet thermal ablation, a patient is able to return home the same day surgery is completed. An operating surgeon may suggest that a patient become active as soon as possible following surgery to avoid experiencing any tightness or soreness. It’s important for patients to stay healthy after facet joint ablation surgery and avoid gaining weight, as this can add unwanted stress to already weakened facet joints. With a physician’s permission, a patient may even want to consider low-impact, cardiovascular activities like swimming and walking to ensure that muscles stay strong and lithe.
If you would like more information about facet joint ablation, or would like to speak to the medical team at Laser Spine Institute about any other painful degenerative condition that is affecting your neck or back, contact us today. Our minimally invasive procedures have helped tens of thousands of people find relief from neck and back pain. We’ll be happy to review your MRI or CT scan.