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Facet joint syndrome — causes, symptoms and treatment options

Facet joint syndrome is defined as ongoing pain that originates in the facet joints. Since the facet joints enable movement throughout the length of the spine, people with facet joint syndrome feel pain in many everyday situations. Simple tasks like turning the head become impossible because of the pain, and the syndrome also can lead to headaches, shoulder pain and pain that travels from the lower back to the legs. This can make getting out of bed and standing up very difficult.

The facet joints have the job of connecting adjacent vertebrae. These joints also provide surfaces for the vertebrae to slide and pivot against one another seamlessly. Smooth movement of facet joints is assured thanks to cartilage and synovial fluid that act as padding and lubrication, respectively. But, like a door that begins to creak when the hinges are worn out, so too can your facet joints deteriorate over time. However, the “creaking” is translated as pain that can manifest as throbbing, aching, inflammation, joint locking or joint crunching (crepitus). Because joints facilitate mobility, you can imagine how debilitating facet joint syndrome can be.

Treatment for facet joint syndrome

For many patients, facet joint syndrome can be successfully treated using nonsurgical treatment that may include rest, hot and cold packs, mild massage or pain medication. Patients may also find relief from the following:

  • Facet joint injections — uses the slow-release hormone cortisone to reduce painful joint swelling
  • Acupuncture — thin needles are used to release tension at the various energy sources in your body
  • Yoga — utilizes muscle-balance therapy and has meditative benefits (but a physician should be consulted before any exercise program is attempted)
  • Inversion therapy — a common practice in yoga that helps straighten the spine and realign shifted joints

In addition to yoga, certain low-impact cardiovascular exercises — if approved by a physician — can be useful. Try walking or swimming as a way to increase endurance and muscle strength while decreasing body mass. Since obesity has been identified as a possible cause of facet joint syndrome, weight loss may be helpful in reducing pain as well.

If you find that these conservative treatments are not effectively relieving you of your facet joint pain, contact USA Spine Care. We are the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery,^ and we offer procedures that can help patients find relief from pain in the facet joints. For example, our minimally invasive decompression surgery allows our surgeons to remove pressure from the impacted nerve root while sparing the surrounding muscles and ligaments. In some cases, our minimally invasive stabilization surgery may be required to add stability to the spine after the nerve root is decompressed.

For more information about our minimally invasive procedures, which are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery, contact USA Spine Care today.^ We can provide you with a free MRI review* to determine if you’re a possible candidate for our minimally invasive procedures.

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