How is lumbar facet syndrome typically treated?

Facet syndrome, or spinal osteoarthritis, affects the small joints that link the vertebrae together. Over time, the protective cartilage that lines the facet joints can gradually break down and wear away, leading to painful bone-on-bone friction. In addition to pain around an affected joint, facet syndrome can also cause spinal nerve compression, which can produce traveling pain, numbness and muscle weakness.

Treatment options for lumbar facet syndrome

Most physicians advise their patients to begin treatment conservatively. For instance, many people find that a combination of two or more of the following options is sufficient to relieve their lumbar facet syndrome symptoms:

  • Lifestyle modifications. It can be beneficial to practice good posture, lose excess body weight, use proper lifting techniques and avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time.
  • Physical therapy. Exercise can stretch and strengthen the core muscles that support the spine, allowing them to take on some of the weight burden that was previously allocated to weakened facet joints.
  • Hot and cold compresses. The topical application of ice to the affected area can numb pain and reduce inflammation, while moist heat can promote the flow of blood and healing nutrients to the tissues surrounding a damaged joint.
  • Medications. Your physician may initially recommend an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, or prescribe a stronger medication if needed.
  • Facet joint blocks. Your physician can inject a medication directly into a painful facet joint. Because the medication will produce a temporary numbing effect, immediate pain relief can serve as a confirmation that the problematic joint has been properly identified. These effects can last for several weeks, also serving as a beneficial form of treatment.

Can nonsurgical facet syndrome treatment provide lasting relief?

While nonsurgical treatment can often break a cycle of acute facet syndrome pain, the relief is usually temporary. If the symptoms return with increasing frequency or intensity, it may be appropriate to consider a surgical procedure. For instance, a surgeon can desensitize tiny, irritated nerve endings in a facet joint.

If you’d like to learn about minimally invasive surgical options for treating facet syndrome, you can contact Laser Spine Institute and request a free MRI review.* Our team can also discuss your symptoms with you and help you determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.