What are the symptoms of facet joint arthritis?

Facet joint arthritis symptoms occur when one of more of the facet joints in the spine (the joints that allow the vertebrae to hinge and move) become inflamed and limit the spine’s mobility. As the inflammation in the joints increases, the affected facet joint(s) may touch a nearby nerve root, resulting in pain and symptoms that can include:

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

Facet joint arthritis symptoms usually begin at the site of the affected joint(s). Pain can originate in the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (middle back) or lumbar spine (lower back). Over time, however, facet joint arthritis 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 on the facet joints.

Treatment for facet joint arthritis symptoms

Treatment of these symptoms is typically handled conservatively with a nonsurgical approach, which may include exercise, heat and ice application, painkillers, 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 are unresponsive to conservative therapy.

If you have been recommended spine surgery to treat facet joint arthritis, we encourage you to contact Laser Spine Institute. We offer facet thermal ablation as a minimally invasive alternative to open back surgery. This outpatient procedure is typically performed in conjunction with a decompression procedure and involves cleaning the facet joint with a laser. The laser is also used to deaden local nerves on the facet joint to relieve the pain. To find out whether you may be a candidate for our minimally invasive procedures, ask to receive a free MRI review.*