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What is facet disease of the spine?

Facet disease can be a little confusing to understand — partially because the condition can be described using many names, including spinal osteoarthritis — but they all refer to the same general process of the deterioration of spinal joints.

A quick anatomy lesson

Before you can understand what facet disease is, you need to understand some basics about the anatomy of the spine. The facet joints are the joints that connect each bone of the spine to the adjacent bones. When healthy, these joints facilitate twisting or bending in the spine as the body moves throughout the day. However, due to one reason or another (including wear and tear, repetitive motion or traumatic impact), the cartilage, or the slippery material that coats the bones of the joint, can become worn down. Because this material is essential to reducing friction and facilitating the movement of the joint, its loss often has a large impact on a person’s mobility.

Symptoms of facet disease

When the spinal joints’ cartilage wears away, it can cause any number of symptoms including:

  • Localized pain
  • Loss of muscle flexibility in the affected area of the spine
  • Difficulty or pain when leaning (especially backwards)
  • Locally radiated pain that travels to nearby parts of the body (from the lumbar spine to the buttocks for example)
  • Trouble sitting for long periods of time
  • Rarely, radiating symptoms that affect the extremities

It should also be noted that these symptoms don’t tend to be present all the time. You may still be experiencing facet disease if these symptoms occur at seemingly random intervals, with painful episodes alternating with periods without symptoms. The sporadic nature of the condition can make it tough to diagnose.

Facet disease treatments

Facet disease is typically first treated using conservative — or nonsurgical — means. Many people with spinal facet disease find that a combination of different treatments provides them with the relief from symptoms that they’re seeking. Usually physicians will advise patients to take over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory or pain medications to help control pain and swelling as they pursue other treatments. Those measures can include getting low-impact exercise, attending physical therapy sessions, receiving corticosteroid injections or turning to complementary therapies like acupuncture. Patients also find that making lifestyle changes like losing excess weight or stopping the use of tobacco products as applicable can help reduce the severity of their symptoms.

Only in cases where symptoms haven’t improved or have worsened over weeks or months of treatment does surgery become a potential option. USA Spine Care offers minimally invasive surgeries that are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back procedures.^ Plus, our spine surgery is performed on an outpatient basis, with patients up and walking within a few hours of surgery.^

If you have facet disease and conservative treatment options haven’t provided you with meaningful relief from your symptoms, contact USA Spine Care to learn more about the spine surgery that we offer.

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