What is Facet Disease?
The Facet joints are the joint structures that connect the vertebrae to one another. The facet joint is like any other joint in your body – they have cartilage that line the joint, (this allows the bone to glide smoothly over one another) and a capsule surrounding the joint. The function of the facet joint is to provide support, stability, and mobility to the vertebrae (spine). Facet Disease occurs when there is degeneration of the facet joint.
There are two facet joints between each vertebrae. They are located on each side of the vertebrae. Facet disease can occur at any level of the spine, but are most common in the lumbar region.
Facet Disease is caused by the cartilage in the joints being worn down as a result of wear and tear, aging, injury or misuse. This type of injury to the spine can be attributed to arthritis of the spine, work, over-use or an 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 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 that can go 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 can radiate around the neck.
Since there are a lot of causes of back and neck pain, it is important that when evaluating and treating a patient that the correct diagnosis is made. Pain related to facet disease can be easily diagnosed. This is accomplished by either a thorough physical exam or a diagnostic facet injection, a numbing medication injected into the facet joint. If your pain is caused from the facet joint, then the pain should resolve immediately. If you still have pain after the injection, then your pain may be caused by something else such as Spinal Stenosis or a herniated/bulging disc, which may require a different procedure to correct.