Facet disease overview

By Michael Perry, M.D.

When the spinal facet joints break down, pain, swelling and tenderness can result. This condition is known as spinal osteoarthritis or facet disease. The following facet disease overview will help you understand the causes, symptoms and treatments related to this degenerative condition. If chronic pain has put your life on hold, using this information in partnership with your primary care doctor may help you get back to the life you’ve been missing.

Facet disease causes

Facet joints are part of the vertebrae and flex behind and between each segment to give motion and flexibility to the spine. Everyday activity — up to a million turning motions each year — can cause these joints and their underlying layers of cartilage to break down. The main cause of this is aging and it happens to everyone to some degree.

In addition to general wear and aging, the main causes of facet disease include poor posture, genetics, traumatic injury and weight. Spondylolisthesis, a condition where a vertebra slips forward in relation to the one below it, can also result in facet disease. To learn more about why facet joints are prone to breakdown and injury, review our degenerative facet joints page.

Symptoms and treatment options

Facet disease symptoms can be similar to other problems like strained muscles, stress fractures and slipped discs, so self-diagnosis is not recommended. Symptoms that are specific to degeneration of spinal joints include:

  • Inflammation
  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling
  • Joint or muscle stiffness

If, after reading this facet disease overview, you think your neck or back pain may be from this condition, contact your health care provider. He or she can make a proper diagnosis and prescribe a course of treatment that is best for you. For an in-depth look at treatment options, review our facet disease treatments page.

While many patients are able to find acceptable relief and resume normal activities through conservative treatments, sometimes symptoms remain after weeks or months of therapy. If you are considering surgery but are concerned about some of the risks and difficulties involved, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive approach to spine surgery is an alternative to traditional open back surgery because our surgeons use smaller incisions that spare important supporting muscles. This lets us treat the symptoms of facet disease, and many other spine conditions, on an outpatient basis with a dramatically shorter recovery period than traditional procedures.^ Reach out to our Care Team for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you’re a potential candidate for our minimally invasive procedures today.