The human spine is made up of 33 vertebrae from the neck down to the tailbone. Facet joints are the small stabilizing joints in the back portion of the spine between vertebrae. Facet joints allow for spinal flexibility, bending and twisting. The bony surface of one vertebrae attaches to the bony articulation of the adjacent vertebrae with cartilage in between. The cartilage allows for smooth movement between levels without grinding. The joint is encapsulated in a fluid producing sac.
What Causes Facet Arthritis?
Facet joint arthritis, sometimes referred to as spondylosis or facet arthropathy, is one of the most common causes of chronic neck and back pain. Like any other joint in the human body, facet joints are susceptible to degeneration and inflammation. Facet joint arthritis can be very painful due to the breakdown of the cartilage that once cushioned the bony surfaces of the joint. Without cushion, the bones will rub with movement causing pain and stiffness. Bone spurs (also called Osteophytes), may form and nerve compression can occur due to the friction between bones and inflammation.
Facet Arthritis Symptoms
Depending on the location of the facet Arthritis (cervical, thoracic or lumbar), symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Low back or neck pain and stiffness in the morning
- Low back or neck pain after activity
- Muscle spasms
- Headaches due to cervical facet arthritis
- Cracking or grinding with movement
The MISI Approach to Facet Arthritis Treatments
There are several treatment options for facet arthritis. Often, facet arthritis pain is treated by conservative methods such as stretching, exercise, weight management, chiropractic manipulation, and medication. Depending on the severity of pain, pain medication may be needed.
In more severe cases, pain management procedures or minimally invasive surgical treatments are utilized to relieve symptoms of facet arthritis. MISI physicians use pain mapping to determine the exact source of pain if a patient suffers from numerous conditions in one area. An example of this is a patient who suffers from facet arthritis at multiple levels. Pain mapping is performed with a diagnostic injection at the level in question. If the injection significantly relieves the pain, the causative level is identified and the surgeon is able to pinpoint treatment to the specific area.
Below are some minimally invasive pain management procedures used to treat facet arthritis pain:
- Rhizotomy A rhizotomy is a pain management procedure performed in an outpatient environment in which the physician uses radiofrequency to ablate or deaden the nerve that senses pain at the affected joint.
- Minimally Invasive Fusion Most patients with facet arthritis will be able to find adeqiuite relief without surgery. If conservative treatments do not provide relief from pain or if facet arthritis causes significant instability of the spine, our trained minimally invasive spine surgeons may recommend a minimally invasive fusion. This procedure will stabilize the facet joint, restore proper spinal structure and relieve pain. This procedure can be performed through an incision as small as 3mm and often on an outpatient basis. Because minimally invasive procedures require such a small incision, patients reap the rewards of less scarring, less blood loss, minimal recovery time and less chance of infection.
If you or a loved one is suffering from facet arthritis, please call us at 855-466-6741 to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, or fill out the form on this page and one of our dedicated patient care coordinators will contact you to set an appointment and answer any questions you may have.
Dr. Bryce Benbow has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.