What is facet joint arthrosis?

Facet joint arthrosis, more commonly called facet joint osteoarthritis, is a degenerative condition that affects people as they age. Think about all the years of strain that your spine undergoes in a lifetime. Eventually, just as a door hinge wears out, your spine’s hinge-like joints will also start to deteriorate. In cases of arthrosis, joint cartilage deteriorates and joints depend on this cartilage to stay flexible and mobile. Cartilage is a soft connective tissue that covers facet joints in areas where bone touches bone. As you can imagine, this protective cartilage coating is forced to intercept quite a bit of strain and friction, so once cartilage wears away, the bone-on-bone contact can lead to bone spurs, stiffness and pain.

What happens when the facet joints undergo arthrosis?

When we consider the term facet joint arthrosis, we’re focusing on the joints that are particular to the spine. Facet joints connect vertebrae to one another and are surrounded by cartilage and a synovial membrane that secretes synovial fluid, keeping the joints working like a well-oiled hinge. As the cartilage weakens, however, joint movement can become extremely difficult. Loss of flexibility, mobility and the painful feeling of bone grinding against bone are just a few of the symptoms that can arise due to facet joint arthrosis.

It is important not to get this condition confused with spinal rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease characterized by the body attacking its own synovial membranes on joints. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the facet joints to become painfully inflamed. One way to tell the difference between facet joint arthrosis and rheumatoid arthritis is to ask yourself if the pain you feel in your spine ever seems warm. If so, you may be experiencing rheumatoid arthritis rather than facet joint arthrosis.

Diagnosing facet joint arthrosis

If you suspect you might be experiencing facet joint degeneration, you should consult a doctor. There are a variety of doctors who can diagnose this condition, though you could begin with your primary care physician. He or she will explore your family history and physical symptoms in order to identify treatments for your facet joint pain.

Your doctor may send you to a rheumatologist, a specialist in diseases of the joints. You could also consult an orthopedist — a specialist in musculoskeletal conditions. Don’t forget, aside from your medical physicians, other professionals may be able to offer advice on this debilitating disease, such as acupuncturists, chiropractors, physical therapists and yogis.

Facet joint arthrosis treatments

If you would like more information about relieving the symptoms of facet joint arthrosis through a surgical alternative, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our outpatient procedures. Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery and has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck or back pain. Our surgeons use a less than 1-inch incision and muscle-sparing techniques, which are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery.^

Through a no-cost MRI review* of your spine, we can evaluate your condition to see if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive spine surgery procedures.