The facet joints play a crucial part in supporting the spine and the general flexibility of the body. However, many people are not even aware of them until they have a facet joint problem. This condition, known as facet syndrome, can cause debilitating pain that makes it impossible to participate in daily activities that used to be simple. In order to more fully understand this condition, read on to learn everything you need to know about facet syndrome.
What is Facet Syndrome?
Facet syndrome is a condition that falls under the umbrella of osteoarthritis and impacts the facet joints of the spine. In general, this is an age-related condition, so it is most common in people older than 50. Osteoarthritis is the result of joint cartilage aging, becoming brittle and thin, which can, in turn, inflame the joints because they are coming into closer contact with one another. This is especially problematic for the spine because the amount of weight this area of the body must support daily. It’s typical for facet syndrome to not be noticeable immediately, but over time, the symptoms become more and more noticeable and can become debilitating.
Symptoms of Facet Syndrome
When cartilage deteriorates, it causes the joints articular surfaces to rub against each other, which can inflame the joint. This can irritate the nerves that run to the joint capsule, causing a deep, aching sensation that is associated with many forms of arthritis. The body might also experience radiating pain along the affected nerve root and spinal cord. This is typically related to osteophytes, more commonly known as bone spurs. These protrusions grow along the edges of the facet joint because of the inflammation but may not be painful themselves. However, the bone spurs can cause compression of the spinal cord or a nerve, which can cause several symptoms, including:
- Radiating pain
- Muscle weakness
Types of Facet Syndrome
There are several different types of facet syndrome based on the location of the joints that are affected by deterioration.
- Lumbar: If there is a facet joint abnormality in the lower back, it can compress the nerves that impact the hips, buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet.
- Thoracic: If the abnormality is in the middle or upper back, it can cause symptoms in the torso.
- Cervical: If the abnormality is in the neck, it can cause symptoms in the upper back, shoulders, arms, and hands.
Diagnosis of Facet Syndrome
When you come to ClinTech for spine problems, if we suspect that we are dealing with facet syndrome, there are a couple of ways we can diagnose. The most definitive way to do so is with a facet joint injection, in which we target the area that appears to be radiating pain and inject it with a small volume of cortisone, x-ray contrast material, and local anesthetic. If this reduces or eliminates the problem, this is a clear indication of facet syndrome.
Treatment of Facet Syndrome
While this condition can be debilitatingly painful, fortunately, there is hope. There are several different treatment options for facet syndrome, and in general, we will try to least invasive first to see if there is any improvement. When you are first diagnosed with facet syndrome, we may recommend:
- Physical therapy
- Muscle relaxants
- Heat therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Massage therapy
- Supportive pillow
- Posture correctors
- Lifestyle changes (e.g. quitting smoking, losing weight, physical activity)
That being said, these interventions are not always effective for everyone. If you have persistent facet joint problems that are impacting your ability to live your life day to day, surgery may be necessary. If this is the case, you can trust us to perform it at ClinTech Center for Spine Health. Led by Dr. Fernando Techy, who has been researching orthopedics and spine health since 1996, we are able to provide a level of care that is unparalleled in Northern Colorado. If you are concerned that your discomfort may be due to facet syndrome, we can help you.
Risk Factors for Facet Syndrome
The biggest risk factor for facet syndrome cannot be avoided — age. As you get older, your risk of developing facet syndrome increases. While you cannot dodge aging, there are other risk factors that make it more likely for you to have issues with your facet joints.
- Traumatic injury
- Poor posture
- Improper lifting
- Extra body weight
- A sedentary lifestyle
- High-impact sports
In addition, if you consume alcohol, smoke, or eat poorly, it can also contribute to the risk of facet syndrome. This is because these activities restrict the blood flow to the area, preventing important nutrients to flow to the joint cartilage. If you have these risk factors, you can talk to your doctor about adapting your lifestyle to avoid the risks.
Preventing Facet Syndrome
While you cannot guarantee that you will avoid facet syndrome, there are some changes you can make now to reduce your risk. Maintaining a body weight that doesn’t put unnecessary stress on the joints can help. In addition, eating a varied and nutritious diet, not smoking, exercising regularly, abstaining from alcohol, and exercising regularly can reduce your risk.
Facet syndrome is a frustrating condition to live with, but if you have it, there’s still hope. At ClinTech Center for Spine Health, we are Northern Colorado’s most trusted resource on spine health. Whether you need a spine surgeon or your problem can be relieved through lifestyle changes, we would be happy to help you achieve the comfort you need. Contact us today for a consultation!