How to get relief from conditions impacting the superior facet

The superior facet, also called the superior articular process, is a pair of facet joints which link adjacent vertebrae. A facet joint allows two vertebrae to move smoothly against each other, with each vertebra containing two pairs — an upper-facing superior facet pair and a lower-facing inferior facet pair. They also contain cartilage for cushioning and tissue that self-lubricates, so the joints can function smoothly.

Issues affecting the superior facet

Because the superior facet is critical to the spine’s stability, support and mobility, it is prone to wear over time like any other joint in the body. As we age, facet joints can become more brittle because the cartilage wears away, creating painful friction in the affected area. The degeneration of a superior facet, referred to as facet disease, can occur in any region of the spine — cervical (neck), thoracic (middle back) or lumbar (lower back).

Other conditions that can affect the facet joints are facet joint syndrome, facet arthritis, facet hypertrophy and spondylolisthesis, which is when one vertebra slips forward over another. Pain and other symptoms usually aren’t experienced unless displaced anatomy puts pressure on a spinal nerve.

Treatment options for superior facet degeneration

Upon diagnosis, most degenerative spine conditions affecting the superior facet can be treated conservatively, with options such as rest, physical therapy, exercise and pain medication recommended by doctors. The goal of nonsurgical therapies is to relieve pain and regain mobility enough to be able to resume and enjoy regular activity. Surgery is usually considered when weeks or months of conservative treatments do not relieve symptoms associated with the superior facet degeneration.

If you are a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute, one possible treatment option for superior facet joint pain is a facet thermal ablation. This procedure is typically performed in conjunction with other outpatient procedures, like minimally invasive decompression.

Facet thermal ablation involves the following steps:

  • A numbing medication injected into the facet joint, followed by a thermal ablation procedure if the injection proves successful
  • A laser used to clean the facet joint
  • Local nerves serving the joint being desensitized or deadened through the use of heat

At Laser Spine Institute, our muscle-sparing procedures offer a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck and back procedures, with no lengthy recovery^ as well as less scarring. We have helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain since 2005.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today and request a no-cost MRI review* to learn if our outpatient procedures would be effective in relieving your superior facet degeneration.