Definition of facet syndrome

The definition of facet syndrome is the pain and discomfort that result in the spine 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 neck and lower back. This is because the constant twisting or bending of the vertebrae or bearing heavy loads wear 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. Inflammation causes the joint lining to reduce its ability to produce the lubricating synovial fluid, which is used to help the vertebrae glide and pivot without friction. Without this 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 symptoms of local and shooting pain, tenderness, headaches and stiffness in the joints. This pain and discomfort are one of the most common symptoms of facet syndrome. To learn about the diagnostic process for this condition as well as the conservative and surgical treatments available to relieve facet syndrome, read the following article.

How facet syndrome is diagnosed

If you suspect that you have facet syndrome, schedule an appointment with your doctor to receive an accurate diagnosis of what is causing your pain. He or she 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 if 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
  • CT scans

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

Treatment for facet syndrome

Initially, most doctors treat facet syndrome symptoms with nonsurgical methods like pain medication, anti-inflammatories, chiropractic manipulation, injections, physical therapy, traction therapy and acupuncture. These conservative treatments often take several weeks or 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 as well as a 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, performed most often in conjunction with a decompression procedure. 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 potential candidate for this procedure, reach out to Laser Spine Institute today and ask for a free MRI review.* We can help guide you on your journey to wellness.