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What tests are used for a facet syndrome diagnosis?

As is the case with many other spinal conditions, a facet syndrome diagnosis usually starts with an in-depth consultation with a physician. The physician will typically begin by reviewing the patient’s symptoms and medical history, including any recent falls or spinal injuries, previous surgeries and current lifestyle. The physician may then perform a thorough physical examination to attempt to isolate the pain, determine whether it is coming from a facet joint and check whether certain body positions and movements improve or worsen the patient’s discomfort.

Because neck and back pain — the most common symptoms of facet syndrome — can have many causes, the process of reaching a facet syndrome diagnosis is often less than straightforward. For this reason, finding effective treatment is usually dependent on working with a physician who has specialized training and clinical knowledge. An experienced physician can often recognize the specific symptoms that may be produced by an inflamed facet joint, then evaluate the results of certain tests to confirm a facet syndrome diagnosis.

Diagnostic tests for facet syndrome

If facet syndrome is suspected, a physician may order one or more diagnostic tests, such as:

  • X-rays and CT scans. These images can reveal abnormalities in spinal bone structures, including enlarged facet joints and bone spurs. A CT scan can also show evidence of cartilage damage in a facet joint.
  • MRIs. These images can provide highly detailed views of the spinal facet joints, and therefore can be useful for identifying facet joint inflammation and ruling out other causes of neck or back pain.
  • Facet joint injections. Usually a key step in arriving at a definitive facet syndrome diagnosis, an injection can also serve a secondary purpose in providing immediate relief from discomfort. If a patient’s pain decreases significantly after an injection, then a physician can reasonably conclude that the targeted facet joint is a cause of — or a major contributor to — the patient’s symptoms. On the other hand, if a patient’s pain remains unchanged after an injection, then facet joint syndrome can usually be ruled out.

Treatment options for facet syndrome

Conservative treatments such as physical therapy and medications can be effective for alleviating mild-to-moderate facet syndrome symptoms, while surgery may be considered to address the underlying cause of severe or debilitating discomfort. Surgical treatment usually involves the decompression of spinal nerves that are being pressured by inflamed facet joints or bone spurs. At USA Spine Care, our board-certified surgeons+ perform minimally invasive outpatient procedures, such as laminotomy, foraminotomy and facet thermal ablation, which are safer and effective alternatives to traditional open spine procedures.^

Contact USA Spine Care to request a no-cost review of your facet syndrome diagnosis and MRI.* We can help you determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.

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