Facet joint pain can significantly reduce your quality of life because so much basic movement relies on the facet joints, which are the hinges that link adjacent vertebrae in the spine. Facet joint pain can come from the medial branch nerves – the nerves that carry pain signals directly to and from facet joints – or pain can come from the formation of bone spurs that compress on spinal nerves.
The breakdown of smooth, protective cartilage that surrounds each facet joint is the primary cause of facet joint degeneration and pain. Once cartilage is worn down, facet joints are left to rub directly on each other. This bone-to-bone contact is what causes nerve irritation and bone spur formation that cause painful symptoms. Although they can vary, common facet joint symptoms include throbbing, aching, swelling and a grinding sensation from bone-on-bone friction.
Facet joint pain locations
Pain in the facet joints, while most common in the lower spine, can affect any region of the spinal column. The spine is divided into three primary regions, associated facet joint pain will vary as follows:
- Cervical – This is the part of the spine in the neck and upper back. You may find that you have trouble moving your head from side to side and have frequent headaches. Radiating symptoms may also be felt in the shoulders and arms.
- Thoracic – Commonly known as the middle back region, facet joint pain here can consist of throbbing around the rib cage.
- Lumbar – You may experience spontaneous joint locking in this area. If you have ever bent over or arched your back and felt that you were unable to return to an upright position, this might be a symptom of facet joint osteoarthritis or other degeneration. Symptoms of nerve compression in the lower back can include numbness, tingling and weakness in the hips, buttocks, legs and feet.
Common treatments for facet joint pain
Often, facet joint pain can be managed by conservative treatment methods like over-the-counter medication, rest, exercise and massage therapy. However, if discomfort and lack of mobility become severe and chronic, even after weeks and months of conservative treatment, you and your doctor may begin to explore surgical options.
If you are considering surgery but have concerns about some of the risks and difficulties involved with a traditional open back procedure, reach out to USA Spine Care. Our minimally invasive spine surgery uses smaller incisions that spare muscles, leading to a shorter recovery time with less scarring for our patients.^ These procedures, including minimally invasive decompression, facet thermal ablation and minimally invasive stabilizations treat the full range of facet joint pain causes. Contact us today for your no-cost MRI review* and find out how we’ve helped more than 75,000 people find relief from neck and back pain.
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