Facet joint symptoms

Facet joint symptoms occur when the facet joint in the spine (the joint that allows the vertebrae to hinge and move) becomes inflamed and limits the spine’s mobility. As the inflammation in the joints increases, the facet joint may touch a nearby nerve root, resulting in pain and symptoms that include:

  • Stiffness or soreness
  • Poor posture
  • Muscle spasms
  • Chronic or acute pain
  • Traveling pain along a nerve pathway

Facet joint symptoms usually begin at the site of the arthritic joint. Pain can originate in the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (middle back) and lumbar spine (lower back). Over time, however, facet joint osteoarthritis can lead to a complete breakdown in the joint cartilage, resulting in bone-on-bone contact and friction between the facet joints that can lead to the development of bone spurs. If bone spurs develop in an area where they pinch nerve roots or the spinal cord, pain and other symptoms can travel the spinal nerve pathway to the extremities.

When to see a doctor

If you are experiencing pain and limited mobility in the spine that lasts more than a week, you should contact your physician. Because the nature of facet joint arthritis is degenerative, the symptoms will often continue to worsen over time without treatment. While arthritis is not entirely treatable, your physician can help you relieve the symptoms of facet joint arthritis by recommending treatments that reduce pressure on the spine and therefore reduce pressure on the facet joints.

Treatment for facet joint symptoms

Treatment of these symptoms is typically handled conservatively with a nonsurgical approach, which may include exercise, heat and ice application, pain killers, the use of braces, injections and more. Occasionally, a more direct treatment approach, such as spine surgery, will be necessary if the pain and symptoms have not lessened after several months of conservative therapy.

If you have been recommended spine surgery to treat facet joint arthritis, we encourage you to contact Laser Spine Institute about our facet thermal ablation, one of our minimally invasive alternatives to open back surgery. This outpatient procedure cleans the facet joint with a laser, which is also used to deaden local nerves on the facet joint to relieve the pain. To learn more about problematic facet joint symptoms, and how minimally invasive spine procedures can treat them, call Laser Spine Institute today.