Facet Disease

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What is a Facet Disease?

Facet disease may also be referred to as facet syndrome and is the general term used to describe any painful degeneration of the facet joints in the spine. Facet disease is one of the leading causes of spine pain. The facet joints connect the vertebrae together. Each vertebrae in the spine has two facet joints which work as a tripod with the intervertebral discs to create support, stability and smooth movement.

Like other joints in the body, the facet joints are lined with cartilage to help absorb the shock and pressure put on the spine and facets on a daily basis. In addition to the weight they bare, these joints are put through constant, repetitive motion every day. Overtime, this causes the cartilage to breakdown and the joints to become inflamed.

As we age, or with acute trauma, these joints can wear down and this may cause pain. This pain is what is referred to as Facet Disease or Facet Syndrome. Patients often refer to this pain as soreness or stiffness.

What are the Symptoms of Facet Disease?

facet disease

The number one symptom is pain. The type of pain depends on the location of the degenerated joint and the extent of the injury. For example, cervical facet syndrome might cause headaches or shoulder pain. Lumber facet disease symptoms might include radiating pain in the buttocks or thighs. It is also important to note that some people affected by facet syndrome might not feel any pain at all.

Symptoms Include:

  • Pain or throbbing
  • Radiating pain in extremities

  • Headaches

  • Stiffness

  • Inflammation

  • Tenderness near the joint

  • Decreased mobility or flexibility

  • Bone spurs

  • Pain that is worse in the mornings

  • Pain that is agitated by certain movements like twisting, bending or lifting

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What Causes Facet Disease?

The causes of facet syndrome are extremely widespread making it one of the most common spine conditions in the world. As we age, normal wear and tear can breakdown the facet joints that carry much of the pressure of our spine. This can be exacerbated by abnormal posture, poor health, obesity, genetics or trauma. Common causes of facet disease are:

  • Age and normal wear and tear

  • Acute trauma such as car accident or sports injury

  • Abnormal stress and strain

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Poor posture

  • Genetics

  • Obesity

  • Poor health and smoking

  • Lack of exercise

Types of Facet Disease

Although most common in the lumbar spine, face syndrome can occur anywhere within the vertebral column.

facet disease symptoms

How is it Diagnosed?

After a general overview of the patient’s medical history and clinical evaluation, patients are often sent for imaging. This can include an MRI, x-ray or CT scan.

Patients may also receive diagnosis through facet injections. During this procedure, a numbing medicine is injected into the facet joint. If the patient feels relief, it’s likely that facet disease is the cause of the pain.

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How is Facet Disease Treated?

Depending on the severity of the pain, facet syndrome sufferers will usually receive conservative, or nonsurgical treatment as their first option. Conservative treatment options can include:

If the patient is not feeling relief or the pain is worsening, minimally invasive surgical treatment may be an option. In more serious cases, surgery can remove bone spurs and help relieve pressure on the nerve roots from inflammation.