What causes facet disease?

If you have been diagnosed with facet disease, understanding what causes facet disease will help you in working with your doctor to develop an effective treatment plan. Facet disease, which is a form of spinal osteoarthritis, is characterized by the gradual breakdown of the cartilage that surrounds the facet joints. This cartilage naturally begins to wear away as part of the aging process, though additional factors can also contribute to the degenerative process.

While this condition is natural, and not necessarily painful, it can be debilitating and severely affect your ability to perform normal activities like preparing a meal, getting a good night’s sleep or spending time with loved ones. By learning more about the causes and treatment options, you can be a more informed and engaged patient and work more closely with your doctor to find the lasting relief you deserve.

Factors that contribute to facet disease

The facet joints link adjacent vertebrae and help them to articulate. The joints are covered in cartilage and are lubricated by joint fluid. The cartilage ensures that these joints can hinge freely without the friction of bone rubbing against bone. The gradual loss of water and the breakdown of collagen fibers are both part of the natural aging process, but a variety of factors can accelerate the deterioration of the cartilage, including:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Genetics
  • Gender
  • Overexertion
  • Traumatic injury
  • Illness or infection
  • Poor posture or improper lifting

Regardless of the specific causes and contributors, facet disease can lead to symptoms like joint stiffness, aching, throbbing and spontaneous joint lockage, in addition to pain, tingling, numbness and weakness due to neural compression from an inflamed ligament or a bone spur growth.

Developing a treatment plan

If your doctor confirms that you have facet disease, then nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, hot/cold compresses, gentle stretching, low-impact exercise, physical therapy and spinal injections will typically be recommended. Lifestyle changes like posture improvement, weight loss and quitting smoking can help take pressure off the joints and promote the long-term health of the spine as well.

However, if your pain is not relieved after weeks or months of these conservative treatments, spine surgery may be recommended in certain cases where nerve compression is present. People in this situation should contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery performed using muscle-sparing techniques.

A member of our caring team will be glad to provide you with a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.