Facet Disease

Facet joint disease refers to the enlargement or inflammation of the small joints that connect spinal bones. Facet joints are small joints that connect the spine’s vertebrae at the sides. They are essential for normal back and neck movement. A number of conditions and causes can result in pain at the facet joints, and can develop into facet joint disease, also called facet hypertrophy (which means excessive growth), or arthritis (which means inflammation).

Depending on the location of the facet joints affected, symptoms can appear along the following lines, usually localized to a joint or joints:

Common symptoms of Facet Joint Disease include:

  • In the lumbar spine: Tenderness, pain, and tingling in the lower back
  • In the thoracic spine: Tenderness, pain, and tingling in the middle to upper back
  • In the cervical spine: Tenderness, pain, and tingling in the neck or head, headaches, and difficulty turning the head

In some cases, inflammation in a facet joint can impinge upon a nearby nerve and trigger a painful condition called a pinched nerve, sometimes classified as a source of facet joint disease.

Prior to having a surgical procedure to treat your facet joint disease, conservative measures such as physical therapy, chiropractic, and steroid injections should be attempted. If these measures do not meaningfully relieve your pain, a North American Spine procedure may help you get long-term relief.

Facet joint disease is typically considered a wear-and-tear disease, meaning age and repetitive stress on the facet joints increase the likelihood of developing the condition. The condition also may be a result of the another degenerative condition called Spondylolisthesis.

Additional common Facet Joint Disease causes include:

  • Age-related wear and tear, which can lead to Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Back or neck strain due to repetitive physical activity, poor posture, imbalances in the musculature, or heavy lifting
  • Direct physical injury such as a car accident or fall
  • Genetics, whether or not the symptoms appeared in your parents

North American Spine partner physicians have the broadest range of minimally invasive solutions for your back or neck pain. Depending on the location and severity of your pain, your treatment will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Decompression: Minimally invasive decompression surgery aims to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. This pressure can be caused by many conditions. Using a surgical laser, if necessary, soft tissue will be removed and pressure on nerves will be relieved. For more on decompression, see Decompression.
  • Stabilization/Fusion: Minimally invasive stabilization/fusion surgery aims to restore spinal stability lost to collapsed discs. Diseased material is removed and stability is regained by fusing vertebrae or replacing diseased material with specialized hardware. For more on stabilization, see Stablization
  • Injections: Injections aim to reduce inflammation, block pain, and/or aid in the regeneration of healthy nerve passages. These procedures often are not permanent solutions, but they may be repeated when pain returns. They are extremely quick procedures with virtually no recovery time.
  • Other Procedures: North American Spine partner physicians may suggest other types of procedures, including the placement of a Spinal Cord Stimulator, an implanted device that blocks the pain signals created by a variety of conditions. For more on our other procedures, see Other Procedures.
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