Facet joint sets exist in pairs on the spinal vertebrae. Most vertebrae have a facet joint connection on the upper right and upper left side, and also on the lower right and lower left side. These joint connections interlock with neighboring vertebrae on the top and bottom.
A facet joint has a fairly flat surface. Facet joint surfaces pivot and slide against one another, effectively working together to give the neck and back its range of motion. Facet joints also help to support body weight and limit movements that would harm the delicate nerve structure in the spine. The spinal column is quite flexible thanks to the fact that facet joints are located throughout the cervical (neck), thoracic (middle back), and lumbar (lower) parts of the spine.
Each vertebra has a set of facet joints that face upward and a set that faces downward, allowing the joints to interlock with the vertebrae above and below. This connection allows for some movement, but it also helps maintain the stability of the spinal structure. Facet joints are synovial joints – the joint connection has a synovial membrane that produces and encapsulates a thick, lubricating fluid. The joints also are covered in cartilage to allow the facet joints to articulate against one another comfortably.
When functioning properly, facet joint pairs, along with intervertebral discs, provide stability, extension and flexibility to the neck and back. However, facet joints are also prone to age-related deterioration, injury and regular wear and tear. These problems are often collectively called facet disease.
Any irritation of the facet joints can lead to neck or back pain, stiffness or soreness. Like other joints in the body, facet joints also can be damaged by various forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis (a wearing away of the joint cartilage) and rheumatoid arthritis (joint swelling caused by the body’s immune system attacking synovial membranes).
Usually, problems with a facet joint aren’t debilitating and can be managed conservatively with the help of a physician. Common treatments for degenerative facet joints can include:
- Stretching exercise and other physical therapy
- Dietary changes
- Injections or other anti-inflammatory medication
- The use of heat, ice, or a back brace in the short-term
In the event that a facet joint is causing severe problems such as bone spurs or disc degeneration, and non-surgical treatments have been ineffective in managing symptoms, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about a procedure known as a facet thermal ablation. In this outpatient procedure, the surgeon uses a laser to clean the facet joint and deaden the nerves in the area that are causing the neck or back pain. The best part about this procedure is that it is minimally invasive.
To learn more about the facet joint, as well as the state-of-the-art, outpatient spine procedures currently available at Laser Spine Institute, contact us today.