Facet disease — what is it and how is it treated?

Facet disease is a degenerative spine condition and a type of arthritis. Facet joints connect the vertebrae, allowing our spines to do the bending and twisting required for daily activities. As we age, the stress from these everyday tasks — walking the dog, bending down to empty the dishwasher — will wear away the cartilage that cushions the joints.
This deterioration can lead to debilitating symptoms like stiffness, loss of mobility and chronic pain in the neck or back.

Facet disease and bone spurs

To prevent the unlined joints from rubbing together during movement, the body naturally creates bone spurs. Despite the name, bone spurs are not sharp; they are actually a smooth buildup of calcium trying to stabilize the joints from the friction occurring. While bone spurs are supposed to be a helpful response to facet disease, they can create a whole new set of symptoms requiring treatment. This is because bone spurs can often interfere with the nerves that run through the spine.

Common symptoms include tingling, numbness, shooting pain and stiffness. Location of the pain varies depending on the part of spine being affected by the bone spur. A pinched nerve in the neck due to a bone spur will cause pain in the shoulders, arms and down to the hands. Lower body pain in the hips, buttocks and legs almost always originates in the lower spine.

Treating facet disease

In many cases, the symptoms of facet disease and bone spur growth can be alleviated through the use of conservative, non-invasive treatments. A care plan should always be created with the help of your doctor. Some of the most commonly prescribed therapies include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Heating pads and/or cold compresses
  • Physical therapy
  • Lifestyle modifications, including weight loss, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake

If you have been through weeks and months of conservative facet disease treatment without experiencing the pain relief you need, surgery may then become an option.

Laser Spine Institute offers a minimally invasive alternative to traditional open back surgery that is safer and avoids a lengthy recovery time.^ Our minimally invasive decompression surgery removes a small portion of the bone spur, while our minimally invasive stabilization procedures remove the entire damaged disc or vertebra and replace it with an artificial disc or bone graft. This is an effective alternative to traditional open back fusion.

Contact us to learn about these outpatient procedures and to have a review of your MRI report or CT scan.