The facet joints are the joints located between the bones of the spine, called vertebrae. Healthy facet joints perform an important role by providing balance and support, as well as allowing the spine to move. Like other joints, the facet joints are lined by cartilage, which allows the bones to move smoothly and prevent friction during motion.
Facet joint disease typically occurs when the cartilage lining of the joint breaks down as a result of arthritis, overuse, or an injury that either damages the structure of the joint itself, or interferes with the healthy blood supply to the joint.
Pain caused by facet joint disease is very common. As the joints in the spine degenerate, wear down or become injured, problems can occur. Symptoms include discomfort ranging from a dull, often persistent ache to more pronounced pain.
Facet joint disease typically occurs due to overuse or arthritis, but it can also occur when one vertebra slips out of line with the other vertebrae, causing a condition known as spondylolisthesis. Obesity, genetics, age and physical activity (especially strenuous sports) can also be contributing factors to the development of the disease.
Although facet joint disease can occur in any of the spine’s facet joints, it most commonly occurs in the lower back (lumbar region), the area between your ribs and your pelvis. When the lumbar region is affected, pain can radiate from the lower back into the hips, buttocks, and thighs. If you have facet joint disease in your neck, or the cervical region of your spine, pain can be experienced in the back of the neck and extend into your shoulders and upper arms.
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When facet joint disease is at its worst, the symptoms are closely similar to those of a herniated disc, a fracture, an acute infection or a muscle tear in the spine. Sometimes, facet joint disease symptoms mimic those of a lower back problem or an acute intra-abdominal problem.
However, conditions affecting the abdomen may imitate facet joint disease of the lumbar area. Conditions affecting the neck may imitate facet joint disease of the cervical area. Please note that arthritis can also cause facet joint pain. This condition should also be examined.
When it comes to spine facet joint pain, correct diagnosis is essential. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the specific symptoms of this condition:
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A personalized treatment plan for facet joint disease begins with a thorough medical exam to determine the underlying cause of the condition. In cases where a spine examination is inconclusive, diagnostic facet joint injections may be used to confirm that you have facet joint disease. Facet joint injections use a numbing medication injected into the joint space. When facet joint disease is the cause of the pain, the diagnostic injection will result in immediate relief of your pain and discomfort.
Once diagnosed, conservative treatments such as physical therapy, strengthening exercises, anti-inflammatory medications, and injections to reduce inflammation may be recommended. When conservative methods fail, NJ Spine & Orthopedic recommends a minimally invasive treatment called facet fusion, which fuses the pain-causing joints together to relieve pain.
Facet joint disease can have a significant effect on your life by causing pain and discomfort with even minor movement and activity. If left untreated, the condition will become worse and can even result in additional stress and strain on other joints or muscles as the body tries to adjust.
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