Learn about facet disease from the orthopedic experts at Laser Spine Institute St. Louis
Facet disease is a fairly common degenerative spine condition affecting the joints located between the vertebrae in the spine. Though this condition can occur anywhere in the spine, it is most common in the lumbar region, which includes the lower back.
Defining facet disease
Facet disease is defined as the degeneration of the facet joints in the spine, and is also commonly referred to as spinal osteoarthritis. This condition is the result of the deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the facet joints. When this cartilage wears away, irritation and other symptoms can develop due to the bones rubbing together.
How is a facet disease diagnosis made?
There are many degenerative spine conditions that may produce symptoms similar to those of facet disease, so it’s important to see a physician who can make an informed diagnosis. This process will feature several steps, including:
- A review of your family medical history to determine if genetics may play a role
- A discussion about your medical history to identify potential contributing factors
- A physical exam to check for flexibility, range of motion and muscle weakness
- A diagnostic imaging procedure, such as an MRI or CT scan, to confirm the presence of facet disease
Identifying the causes of facet disease
Facet disease is caused by years of pressure being put on the facet joints and the cartilage that allows the vertebrae of the spine to move independently of each other. However, there are several risk factors that can contribute to the development of this condition. For example, being overweight increases the burden that the facet joints must endure, and tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, physically demanding jobs and high-impact sports have also been shown to speed the development of facet disease.
Recognizing the symptoms of facet disease
There are several distinct symptoms that may point to the existence of facet disease, including chronic pain in the arthritic joint and joint stiffness or weakness. In cases where facet disease has resulted in the growth of bone spurs, symptoms such as radiating pain, numbness, muscle weakness and tingling can appear if a nerve root or the spinal cord is being affected by the protrusion.
What are my treatment options for facet disease?
The treatment options that work best for alleviating facet disease symptoms will vary from patient to patient, depending on the location of the affected vertebrae, the severity of the condition and the relative health of the patient. Lifestyle modifications to reduce the stress on the joint can be an effective option, as well as exercises designed to strengthen the muscles around the neck and back. In the short term, over-the-counter pain medications and hot/cold therapy may help lessen the pain and inflammation.
When does surgery become a treatment option for facet disease?
In rare cases where conservative and alternative treatment options have been exhausted without success, spine surgery may be needed to alleviate facet disease symptoms. At Laser Spine Institute in St. Louis, MO, our board-certified surgeons+ perform minimally invasive procedures designed to treat a full range of degenerative spine conditions, including facet disease.
Contact us today if you are interested in learning more about our outpatient surgical procedures. We offer a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.