The facet joints are the structures that connect the spine’s vertebrae to one another. There are two facet joints between each vertebra, located on either side. Like any other joint in the body, it is lined with cartilage (allowing the bones to glide smoothly over one another) and a capsule surrounding it.
The function of the facet joint is to provide support, stability, and mobility to the spine. Facet disease refers to any degeneration of the facet joint that limits its functionality. Facet disease can occur anywhere in the spine, but it is most common in the lumbar region.
Causes of Facet Disease
Facet disease is caused by the cartilage of the facet joints wearing down due to aging, injury or overuse. This type of injury to the spine can be attributed to arthritis of the spine, work-related injury, or a traumatic accident. Another cause of Facet disease is spondylolisthesis, which is when one vertebra slips forward in relation to an adjacent vertebra, usually in the lumbar spine.
Symptoms of Facet Disease
Symptoms related to facet joint problems are usually localized to the area of the facet joint. This can occur in the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back) and lumbar (lower back).
When the facets are affected in the lumbar region, a person can experience lower back pain radiating to the buttocks and upper thigh area. If the area affected is cervical, then pain can occur in the back of the neck and radiate to the top of the shoulders and around the neck.
Diagnosing Facet Disease
Diagnosis of facet disease often begins with a physical exam. The doctor will also take a thorough medical history and perform imaging studies such as an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis. The goal of these tests is to rule out any other causes for the symptoms (such as disc herniation).
Treatment of Facet Disease
It is very common for facet disease to be treated without surgery and usually begins with rest. This means avoiding any activities that make the pain worse until the body has had a chance to heal itself. If this isn’t effective after a few weeks, non-invasive measures such as physical therapy or chiropractic care may be used. Sometimes it is necessary to utilize spinal surgery to repair the facet joints, which can provide excellent relief from pain and discomfort that may become unbearable otherwise.
The multidisciplinary team at Comprehensive Medical Care offers a variety of treatment options to address facet disease and improve optimal function.