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Facet Joint Syndrome

The back is supported by series of bones called vertebrae, which are in turn connected by delicate facet joints. These joints not only help hold vertebrae together, they also protect them from excessive movement and dislocation. Unfortunately, facet joints are as prone to wear and tear as any other part of the body.

As we age, the smooth cartilage and fluid that guards facet joints begins to naturally dissipate. For reasons we don’t fully understand, some people lose this protection more quickly than others. This decay can cause facets to lose stability and rub against each other, exposing nerves and causing painful symptoms. This condition is considered a form of arthritis, and is called facet joint syndrome or facet syndrome.

Symptoms of Facet Joint Syndrome

How people experience symptoms of facet syndrome depends on severity of their condition and how the body responds.

Here are a few of the primary symptoms of facet joint syndrome that you should be aware of:

Bone Spurs and Related Pain: When facet joints lose stability due to cartilage degeneration, the body often attempts to compensate by developing bone spurs. These bony projections form along the spinal column, where they sometimes have the unfortunate side effect of causing substantial nerve pain. If nerve compression occurs, they can also cause tingling and muscle weakness.

Bone spurs are one of the most unpleasant symptoms of facet syndrome, and should be taken especially seriously if any feelings of tingling or numbness occur.

Joint Inflammation: The constant aggravation of facet joints rubbing together can easily cause joint inflammation. Symptoms of joint inflammation include muscle tenderness near the inflamed area and painful movement. A certain amount of stiffness can also be expected, especially in the morning.

General Nerve Pain: When facet joints grind against each other without cushion, nerves can be exposed. This can result in pain when twisting or arching the back or neck, as well as more general discomfort.

Where your damages located will also play a role in how you experience the symptoms. For example, facet syndrome in the upper cervical spine can result in headaches, while problems in the lower spine can cause pain to generate down the thighs.

Diagnosing Facet Joint Syndrome

Once someone’s medical history shows facet joint syndrome to be a possibility, there are several ways physicians can verify the diagnosis.

Medical Imaging: Physicians often use X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to diagnose facet syndrome. These tests provide the evidence necessary to conclusively identify facet degeneration as the cause of pain.

Facet Joint Injection: Another technique doctors used to confirm facet syndrome is called a facet joint injection. During this process, physicians inject medicine into the facet they suspect is causing pain. If the medicine relieves symptoms, physicians can then confirm which facet joint is creating difficulties.

Facet Joint Syndrome Treatments

Most physicians initially choose to treat with noninvasive, conservative therapies. Some of these approaches focus on altering physical behavior to minimize symptoms. For example, behavioral modification may be recommended to help patients move and work in a way that causes fewer symptoms. Physical therapy may also be suggested for similar reasons, as well as to help patients improve mobility and restore lost flexibility.

Other initial treatments are likely to be more medicinal. Patients with facet joint syndrome may be prescribed painkillers to help manage discomfort. Corticosteroid injections can also be used to help treat painful joint inflammation.

However, if continued treatments and therapies fail to produce results, physicians may also recommend a surgical option. Minimally invasive endoscopic procedures are increasingly used to treat symptoms of facet joint syndrome, such as bone spurs.

To help determine the best treatment options for you, make an appointment with your physician to discuss your medical history and current symptoms. They’ll be able to help you decide the best approach to treating fact syndrome symptoms, as well as answer any further questions.