Facet arthritis

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Facet arthritis is the inflammation of one or more of the facet joints, which link the vertebrae. The role of these joints is to provide stability and motion to the spine. Over time, facet joints can thicken and their protective cartilage can harden, leading to pain, swelling and tenderness. Facet disorders are some of the most common neck and lower back problems. To learn more about facet joint degenerative diseases like facet arthritis, visit our facet disease page.

Causes and symptoms of facet arthritis

Factors leading to facet arthritis include:

  • Age — Arthritis affects approximately 90 percent of people over the age of 55.
  • Gender — Women are twice as likely to suffer from arthritis as men.
  • Obesity — Carrying extra weight puts additional pressure on the joints.
  • Work or sports related injuries — Repetitive motion, like the bending and twisting required of many sports and professions, can cause accelerated wearing of the joints.
  • Trauma — Sudden high impact injuries, like from an auto accident or workplace injury can make the spine more susceptible to developing facet arthritis.

Facet arthritis typically occurs in the lower back, and many patients report that symptoms are more pronounced in the morning. The accompanying pain can be slight to severe and it may travel down to the buttocks through the upper thigh if a swollen joint or bone spur compresses a nerve in the spine. Facet arthritis can also cause joint stiffness, swelling, tenderness in the affected area and muscle weakness.

Treating facet arthritis

Contact your health care provider if you experience difficulty getting out of bed in the morning or if you feel pain or swelling in your joints. Your physician can confirm that your symptoms are due to arthritis and not a more serious problem. Upon diagnosis, most cases of spinal arthritis are treated with a course of conservative methods that can include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy.

If you’re still experiencing the effects of facet arthritis after several rounds of conservative treatments, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our highly skilled surgeons perform minimally invasive spine surgery that is an alternative to traditional open back procedures. By using state-of-the-art technology that allows for smaller muscle-sparing incisions, we can offer shorter recovery periods^ and less risk of complication with these procedures. To see if you’re a potential candidate, contact our Care Team today for a no-cost MRI review.*