Facet syndrome definition

The definition of facet syndrome is the pain and symptoms that result from facet disease — the deterioration of the facet joints in the spine.

Facet syndrome is a form of osteoarthritis (arthritis of the spine) that is most commonly experienced by people age 50 and older. While it can occur at any level of the spine, this condition is most common in the flexible, weight-bearing cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions. This is because the constant bending and flexing of the vertebrae wears down the cartilage cushion on the facet joints and leads to facet disease and syndrome.

The most common cause of facet syndrome is simply the natural aging process of the spine. Throughout the aging process, the joint cartilage deteriorates, leading to inflammation and stiffness in the joints. Inflammation causes the joint lining, called synovium, to reduce its ability to produce the lubricating synovial fluid, which is used to help the vertebrae glide and pivot without friction. Without the synovial fluid, the cartilage continues to wear down with constant grinding from the vertebrae and the joints continue to become inflamed.

As the facet joint swells, it risks pressing against a local nerve and causing local and shooting pain. This pain is one of the most common symptoms of facet syndrome.

How facet syndrome is diagnosed

If you suspect that you have facet syndrome, schedule an appointment with your physician to receive an accurate diagnosis of what is causing your pain.

Your physician should perform a series of tests to determine whether or not you have facet syndrome, including physical and imaging tests. The goal is to determine whether degeneration of the facet joints has occurred, and if so, to pinpoint the location of the deterioration. These tests can include:

  • Intra-articular joint injections
  • Medial branch nerve block injections
  • X-rays
  • MRI imaging
  • CT scans

Your physician will also ask you a series of questions about your medical history and current lifestyle to help recommend the best treatment option for your needs.

Treatment for facet syndrome

Initially, most physicians treat pain and other symptoms associated with facet syndrome with pain medication, behavior modification, physical therapy, exercise and other conservative methods. These conservative treatments often take several months before the pain relief results can be measured. For many people, conservative treatment is sufficient and spine surgery is unnecessary.

However, if these treatments prove unsuccessful, surgery may be recommended. Before you decide on the type of surgery you will undergo, contact Laser Spine Institute and ask about our minimally invasive spine surgery. Patients who choose the minimally invasive surgery at Laser Spine Institute experience a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication and infection compared to patients who choose traditional open spine surgery.

To treat facet syndrome, we offer minimally invasive facet thermal ablation, as well as other minimally invasive spine procedures. Our minimally invasive facet thermal ablation reduces the inflammation in the joints and numbs the surrounding nerves to help reduce the pain of facet syndrome. To see if you are a candidate for this procedure, contact Laser Spine Institute today and ask for a review of your MRI report or CT scan.