Causes of Facet Pain in the Spine

Facet pain most often results from the degeneration of the cartilage that lines the facet joints of the spine. These joints are the hinge-like structures where adjacent vertebrae meet and articulate. In healthy joints, the cartilage provides the smooth surface and padding necessary to facilitate free movement. Over time, however, the cartilage can wear away, primarily due to the natural aging process. Other factors that can accelerate facet cartilage deterioration include poor posture, smoking, strenuous lifting, obesity, traumatic injuries like vertebral fractures and certain illnesses. In severe cases, facet pain can be indicative of facet disease, which is a form of osteoarthritis.

Types of facet pain

In general, there are two types of facet pain that can result from cartilage deterioration. The first is characterized by mechanical symptoms like joint stiffness, inflammation, sudden joint lockage and reduced range of motion, which can hinder the movements necessary to perform day-to-day activities.

The second type of facet pain results when cartilage wears away to the point that the bones of the facet joints are exposed, begin to grind together and bone spurs form. These extra growths of bone, also called osteophytes, may impinge nearby spinal nerve roots and cause radiculopathic symptoms, such as:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Warm, electric pain
  • Muscle weakness

Radiculopathic symptoms, which result from nerve root impingement, tend to travel along the path of the compressed nerve throughout the neck, back and/or extremities. Mechanical symptoms, on the other hand, tend to remain isolated in the region of the affected joint.

Facet pain treatments

Most forms of facet pain can be treated with a conservative (non-surgical) regimen, such as physical therapy, behavior modification, hot/cold compresses, pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs. However, some patients may find that these options are ineffective in treating their facet pain and, thus, may begin to think about spine surgery. If this is true in your case, consider one of the minimally invasive bone spur removal and facet thermal ablation procedures offered at Laser Spine Institute. Our state-of-the-art techniques provide many patients with a more effective alternative to open spine surgery. Contact Laser Spine Institute today for your MRI or CT scan review.