Will I need facet joint surgery if I am diagnosed with facet disease?

If you’ve been diagnosed with facet disease, you may be wondering if surgery is your only treatment option. While some patients find relief through facet joint surgery, also referred to as facet disease surgery, many patients are able to treat their condition conservatively without needing surgery. That being said, it’s important to research your surgical options in case conservative treatments do not effectively relieve your symptoms.

There are many facet joint surgery procedures that are performed with the goal of relieving nerve compression or irritation. Traditional open back surgery is usually considered when other treatment methods have been exhausted. If chronic pain related to a facet joint condition is interfering with your life, it is important to know the full range of options available to you when exploring the possibility of facet joint surgery with your doctor.

Which conditions can be treated with facet joint surgery?

The facet joints link the vertebrae together and enable basic spine movements like bending and twisting. Years of wear and tear cause the cartilage that coats these joints to erode. When cartilage deteriorates, raw facet joint surfaces rub against each other. This increased bone friction on facet joints can lead to irritation of medial branch nerves inside the joints which causes pain and stiffness. This condition is commonly diagnosed as facet joint osteoarthritis.

In addition to local nerve irritation, facet arthritis can also be associated with the development of bone spurs. Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are excess bone growths that the body produces as a reaction to excess friction. These growths are not painful, but they can put pressure on nerve roots or the spinal cord, causing neck pain, back pain and radiating symptoms to the limbs. Tingling, numbness and muscle weakness can also occur.

Facet joint surgery options

The following procedures are typical recommendations for treating nerve irritation and compression related to arthritic facet joints:

  • Facet joint denervation or facet joint ablation — This facet joint surgery deadens the medial branch nerves that carry sensory signals to and from a facet joint. Since medial branch nerves do not carry motor information, these nerves can be safely removed, similar to how oral nerve endings are eliminated during a root canal.
  • Nerve decompression surgery — If a bone spur is narrowing the spinal canal and causing painful nerve compression, the surgeon can access the spine and remove the excess bone, decompressing the nerves.

Laser Spine Institute performs both of the above procedures on an outpatient basis. With these minimally invasive procedures, our surgeons access the spine through a small — sometimes less than 1 inch — incision. Our procedures are an alternative to traditional open spine surgery because there is less disruption to critical supporting muscles, leading to shorter recovery times for our patients.^ For more severe cases of spinal degeneration where a fusion surgery is recommended, we also offer minimally invasive stabilization procedures as an alternative to a traditional spinal fusion.

If you would like to find out more about the minimally invasive facet joint surgery options offered at Laser Spine Institute, such as facet thermal ablation or minimally invasive decompression, contact us today. Our Care Team can tell you how to get your no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a candidate for a minimally invasive procedure.