Overview of facet syndrome in the thoracic spine

Thoracic facet syndrome, also known as thoracic facet disease or thoracic osteoarthritis, is a degenerative spine condition in which the facet joints of the thoracic (middle) region of spine deteriorate over time and become painful and stiff.

While facet syndrome in the thoracic region of the spine is not as common as facet disease in the more flexible cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) segments, the joints in the thoracic spine can deteriorate as a result of regular wear and tear. As the cartilage on the joints wears down with years of repetitive movement, the joints can become inflamed and each movement can cause grinding on the joint itself. This condition could also lead to the development of a bone spur — a small, bony growth that develops near a damaged facet joint due to bone-on-bone contact.

The thoracic spine

One of the most important responsibilities of the 12 vertebrae in the thoracic spine is to support the weight of the rib cage. While the cervical and lumbar portions of the spine are designed to provide a wide range of motion, the thoracic spine is built for stability.

To help maintain stability in the body, each vertebra in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine is connected by a facet joint. This joint acts as a hinge for the vertebrae, allowing them to bend and move. Thoracic facet syndrome is a type of osteoarthritis that, with the deterioration of the cartilage lining on the joint, can lead to joint inflammation and limited mobility.

Treatment of thoracic facet syndrome

Generally, patients diagnosed with thoracic facet syndrome can find effective pain relief through a series of conservative treatments. Commonly recommended options include:

  • Low-impact exercises
  • The application of heat
  • Massage
  • Pain medication, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants
  • Physical therapy
  • Stretching

While facet disease in any area of the spine cannot be cured or reversed, the symptoms of the condition can often be managed. However, if several months of conservative treatment have not decreased these symptoms and they continue to affect your quality of life, surgery may become an option. If you are in this situation, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery.

Our outpatient procedures are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery.^ For patients with thoracic facet syndrome, our minimally invasive facet thermal ablation is an option designed to deaden the nerves immediately around the arthritic joint to help prevent future pain. Because we approach this surgery with muscle-sparing techniques, our patients experience a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication than patients who choose traditional open back surgery.

If you’re suffering from chronic back pain and stiffness, it’s time to take the next step toward pain relief. Our caring and dedicated team is pleased to offer a no-cost MRI review* to help you determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.