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Can facet syndrome cause headaches?

When facet syndrome develops in the upper (cervical) section of the spine, it can cause several uncomfortable symptoms. Pain and stiffness are among the most common, but many people with facet syndrome also experience headaches. However, many different conditions, including stress, dehydration and infections, can also cause headaches. As a result, it’s important to undergo a thorough diagnostic evaluation prior to starting treatment.

How does facet syndrome cause headaches?

Facet syndrome — also known as facet disease — is a condition in which the spinal facet joints gradually degenerate over time. The facet joints are responsible for guiding movement in the spine. They are lined with cartilage and lubricated by a smooth liquid called synovial fluid. When the cartilage breaks down and the synovial fluid wears away, the surfaces of the joints are left to rub against each other. This can be painful in and of itself, and it can also cause the body to produce calcium deposits called bone spurs. Bone spurs can potentially compress the nerves and nerve roots within the spinal canal (or even the spinal cord itself), causing additional symptoms.

Sometimes, headaches are a neurological complication of facet syndrome and the resulting bone spurs. The pain may be concentrated in the bottom of the head near the base of the neck, or it can spread to the shoulders, temples or forehead.

Treating facet disease

There are a variety of treatment options for managing the symptoms of facet disease. Anti-inflammatory medications such as acetaminophen, for example, can help relieve chronic headaches. Physical therapy can help prevent stiffness and flexibility loss, while hot/cold therapy can provide relief from throbbing or tingling sensations. Lifestyle changes, such as staying well hydrated, can also benefit individuals who experience chronic facet syndrome headaches.

While not necessary in every situation, surgery is also an option. USA Spine Care performs minimally invasive facet syndrome surgery, offering candidates a safer and effective alternative to traditional (open) operations.^ If you’d like to learn more, contact us today.

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