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Facet disease

Facet disease is a condition that can occur in the facet joints, which link the vertebrae in the spine and provide your body with the flexibility that allows you to bend and twist. These stabilizing joints are positioned to provide the necessary level of mobility for each area of the spine, with the cervical (upper) spine and lumbar (lower) spine being more flexible and the thoracic (middle) spine offering less flexibility.

What is facet disease?

Also referred to as spinal osteoarthritis, facet disease is the deterioration of a facet joint in the spine. This condition occurs when the cartilage in the joint has been worn down and is no longer allowing the joint to move smoothly. When the bones in the facet joint rub against each other, it can lead to pain, stiffness and limited range of motion, and can cause painful bone spurs to form.

How is facet disease diagnosed?

Since osteoarthritis is a common cause of facet disease, your physician may ask about your family history to see if you have a genetic predisposition to this condition before making a diagnosis. The diagnosis process will likely also include a review of your medical history and a discussion about your symptoms so your physician can gain a better understanding of your condition.

Another important part of the diagnostic process is a physical exam, during which your physician will test your range of motion in different areas in an attempt to pinpoint the location of the vertebrae that are being affected by facet disease. Additionally, an MRI, CT scan or X-ray may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other potential underlying issues.

What causes facet disease?

There are a wide range of factors that can be considered possible contributing causes of facet disease, including age, genetics, poor posture, obesity, improper lifting and traumatic injuries, such as fractures. Spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one vertebra slides forward over another, can also result in the development of facet disease.

What are the facet disease symptoms?

Facet disease can be a difficult condition to diagnose because it produces symptoms that are similar to those produced by other spinal conditions, such as bulging or herniated discs and fractures. In addition to stiffness and soreness in the affected joint, facet disease can cause muscle spasms, muscle weakness and decreased flexibility. If the condition leads to the development of bone spurs in the affected joint, it’s possible that a nerve root could be compressed, resulting in additional symptoms.

Are treatments available for facet disease?

If not treated, facet disease can lead to lead to recurring neck and back problems that could limit your daily activities. Identifying the treatment options that work for your particular case could take time, but there are several conservative treatments that have been successful, including the use of nonprescription pain medications, facet injections, low-impact stretching and strengthening exercises. Lifestyle changes, such as losing excess weight or eliminating tobacco and excessive alcohol use that may be contributing to the development of facet disease, may also be an option.

Does facet disease require surgery?

In the cases where conservative treatments don’t produce relief from the symptoms of facet disease, surgery may be an option. If this is your situation, you may want to consider an outpatient surgery performed at Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open back surgery and provides many advantages comparatively. If you would like to learn more about the minimally invasive spine surgery we offer for patients in Cincinnati suffering from facet disease, contact Laser Spine Institute today. Our dedicated team can help you get a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.