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Facet joint degeneration

Facet joint degeneration is a condition that affects all of us as we age. The deterioration of joint cartilage in the spine is a natural process and, for many people, painful symptoms may never be encountered. If you are dealing with severe facet joint degeneration or a related condition like spinal osteoarthritis, it can make your life extremely difficult. Your favorite activities — like walking your dog or cooking a meal — can become painful ordeals. Knowing more about the causes and treatments for facet joint issues can help you get back to the life you’ve been missing.

The effects of facet joint degeneration

The facet joints connect the vertebrae together and allow for basic movement, letting us bend and twist the torso and head. But years of everyday activity, combined with the body’s tendency to dry out with age, will cause the joint linings to become brittle and eventually wear away. Spinal osteoarthritis occurs when the exposed joints become inflamed from repeated bone-on-bone contact.

While basic symptoms of mild to moderate local pain and joint stiffness are difficult, severe symptoms also occur because of nerve compression due to joint swelling or bone spurs. Bone spurs are growths that are an attempt to stabilize the joint from friction related to facet joint degeneration. If a bone spur causes narrowing of either the central spinal canal or a nerve root exit, pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness can travel out to the arms or legs, depending on the location of compression in the spine.

Finding relief from symptoms

If your physician diagnoses you with facet joint degeneration, he or she will usually recommend a course of conservative options before considering surgery. Common treatments include:

  • Rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Massage
  • Epidural steroid injections

Surgery will usually be discussed if a course of conservative treatment is not effective. The aim of most spine surgery is to decompress nerves by removing anatomy, like a bone spur, that is narrowing the spinal column or a nerve root exit. There are also procedures that can relieve pain by removing specific nerves that are causing local joint pain.

Traditional open back surgery is seen as a last resort by doctors and patients alike because the large muscle-tearing incisions required can increase the risk of complication and cause difficulties after surgery. USA Spine Care offers a minimally invasive approach to spine surgery that is an alternative to traditional procedures. Our surgeons use smaller incisions, usually less than 1 inch, to access the spine and remove the source of nerve compression, leading to a shorter recovery period with less scarring.^ We also offer a minimally invasive facet thermal ablation that is typically performed in conjunction with a decompression. To learn more about facet joint degeneration and to see if you may be a candidate for these procedures, contact us today for your no-cost MRI review.*

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