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What is lumbar facet syndrome?

Lumbar facet syndrome is a relatively common type of degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) that develops in the spine. More specifically, lumbar facet syndrome affects the small joints that connect the vertebrae in the lower back. The facet joints serve as important hinges that allow the vertebrae to move, facilitating a wide range of spinal flexibility. Each joint is lined with protective cartilage, which helps the spinal bones fit together snugly and glide smoothly against each other.

Why is facet syndrome so common in the lower back?

Because the lumbar spine supports the majority of the body’s weight, the facet joints in this region are subjected to a considerable amount of wear and tear, even during routine activities such as sitting, standing and walking. More demanding activities such as bending and lifting can add to the already significant stress on the lower back. Over time, excess pressure can cause the cartilage in the lumbar facet joints to gradually break down, leading to the development of lumbar facet syndrome as the spinal bones are left unprotected and begin to grind together.

Lumbar facet syndrome can produce a variety of symptoms that range in intensity from mild to severe. For instance, some people notice a dull ache, localized tenderness or limited range of motion, while other experience radiating pain, tingling sensations and muscle weakness in their lower back, buttocks, legs and feet. Because this condition is often a consequence of the natural aging process, it cannot be completely prevented. However, positive lifestyle changes can help strengthen and protect the spine, as well as alleviate facet syndrome symptoms when they occur.

Finding relief from the symptoms of lumbar facet syndrome

In addition to behavioral modifications, such as exercising regularly, avoiding heavy lifting and quitting smoking, conservative therapies can be helpful for symptom management. Some potentially effective options include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy and chiropractic manipulation. As a general rule of thumb, if disruptive symptoms persist after approximately three months of nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be an appropriate next step to consider.

If you’re currently exploring surgical treatment options for facet syndrome, contact USA Spine Care. Our surgeons perform several types of minimally invasive outpatient surgery to treat lumbar facet syndrome, including spinal decompression and stabilization procedures. We can provide a free MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.

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