Facet Syndrome – A Common Type of Arthritis That Affects the Spinal Joints

Facet syndrome is a type of wear-and-tear arthritis that develops in the spine and affects many people after age 50. Specifically, facet syndrome occurs in the small spinal joints (facet joints) located between the vertebrae on both sides of the spine in the neck and back regions. These hard-working joints are continually in motion, providing the spine with the support and flexibility it needs to allow the body to bend, twist and move. All of this motion, however, may come with a price.

Age-related facet syndrome gradually causes the facet joints to deteriorate. A healthy facet joint is lined with a protective cartilage coating that reduces friction and allows the bones within the joint to move smoothly against each other. With repetitive use over time, the cartilage will begin to naturally wear away. The resulting friction can lead to joint enlargement, inflammation and pain, and can also stimulate the body to produce bone spurs on the affected vertebrae to help strengthen them.

Do you have facet syndrome?

Neck and back pain can have a wide variety of underlying causes. For this reason, it’s always best to see a physician if any spinal discomfort lasts for more than a few weeks or seems to be getting progressively worse instead of better. While only a physician can provide a definitive diagnosis, you may have facet syndrome if you are experiencing:

  • Pain that seems to be more pronounced at the beginning and end of each day or after you sit for a prolonged period of time
  • Back pain that travels through your buttocks and legs
  • Neck pain that radiates into your shoulders and arms
  • Headaches that form at the base of your skull or behind your eyes
  • Ringing in your ears
  • A grinding sound when you move your neck or back
  • A hunched forward posture or other excessive curvature of your spine
  • Numbness, weakness or pins-and-needles sensations in your legs or arms

Because there are several other conditions that can produce similar symptoms, it’s important to receive a confirmed diagnosis from a physician before you begin any treatment for facet syndrome.

What to do if you are diagnosed with facet syndrome

You are most likely to find the best treatment approach for addressing your chronic or unmanageable facet syndrome pain by working closely with a physician. One possibility is a fluoroscopic facet joint injection, which is often recommended for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

A facet joint injection can allow a physician to view in detail and precisely target a damaged area of a facet joint. After injecting a mixture of a local anesthetic, an anti-inflammatory medication and an X-ray contrast agent into a facet joint that is believed to be affected by facet syndrome, a physician can closely monitor the response of the joint. If relief is achieved immediately or soon after an injection, then the joint can usually be confirmed as the source of pain. In general, the relief provided will be temporary, but it can last for several weeks or months.

After confirming a diagnosis of facet syndrome, your physician will likely recommend physical therapy to help you manage your symptoms. A comprehensive rehabilitation plan can calm your pain and inflammation, enhance your strength and mobility and make it easier for you to perform your daily activities. In addition to exercises and stretches, a physical therapy program may also include the use of ice to reduce swelling by decreasing the amount of blood flow to an inflamed area. If you are having muscle spasms, you may benefit from ultrasound therapy or electrostimulation as well.

Surgery is often unnecessary for treating facet syndrome. That’s because many patients find that they are able to successfully manage their pain with conservative methods. But, some patients ultimately decide to pursue surgery when their pain persists and nothing seems to help.

Surgery doesn’t necessarily mean an invasive operation

If you’ve reached the point that you’re considering surgery to address pain caused by facet syndrome, you might be envisioning a highly invasive operation followed by a long and difficult recovery. But this may not necessarily be the case for you.

At Laser Spine Institute, our surgeons perform minimally invasive spine surgery that is an alternative to traditional open back procedures for treating facet syndrome. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is often the clinically appropriate first choice and provides many advantages versus open neck or back surgery, including a 3 percent complication rate, a .0.49 percent infection rate and no lengthy recovery.^

Before you consent to any surgical procedure to address the symptoms of facet disease, you should explore all of your options, which may include a minimally invasive approach. To learn more, contact Laser Spine Institute. We can provide you with an MRI review at no cost* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.