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Facet syndrome

Also known as spinal osteoarthritis, facet syndrome is a condition characterized by the degeneration of the cartilage that cushions the facet joints – the joints that connect the spine’s vertebrae and facilitate bending and twisting motions. Facet syndrome is a common ailment among Americans over the age of 50.

What causes facet syndrome?

Age is the primary factor in the onset of facet syndrome. Cartilage that buffers joints thins and deteriorates as the body ages, and may eventually cause painful bone-on-bone friction that severely impacts one’s ability to move and function as normal. Mild to moderate spinal degeneration takes place in everyone at some point, but certain factors can accelerate the degeneration process and increase the likelihood of developing facet syndrome. These factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Poor posture
  • Frequent strenuous motions and high-impact exercise
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption
  • A history of spinal trauma
  • A family history of degenerative spinal conditions

What are the symptoms of facet syndrome?

The symptoms of facet syndrome can vary depending on the extent of the degeneration and what section of the spine is affected. For instance, the majority of cases occur in the cervical (upper) spine which can cause radiating pain and numbness throughout the arms. Generally speaking, though, facet syndrome is associated with:

  • Stiffness and soreness
  • Reduced mobility
  • Localized pain
  • Tenderness in the affected joint
  • Dull, aching pain

How is facet syndrome diagnosed and treated?

The first step to effectively treating joint discomfort is to make an accurate diagnosis. To begin, a physician will gather information about the patient’s symptoms and medical history. Diagnostic tests such as an X-ray, CT scan or facet injections may then be suggested to pinpoint the source of the patient’s symptoms.

Doctors will usually recommend a combination of conservative therapies to help patients manage their pain and improve their mobility. Common treatment options for facet syndrome include corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, gentle stretching and medications to reduce pain and inflammation. Some patients may also benefit from complementary therapies such as yoga and acupuncture.

Will I need surgery?

Most people with facet syndrome do not require surgery. However, in the event that severe symptoms persist despite several rounds of conservative treatment, surgical intervention may be recommended to relieve nerve compression, remove damaged spinal components and/or stabilize the spine.

Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia offers minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open spine surgeries and the large incisions and considerable downtime that can come with them. Our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis by board-certified surgeons+, and only require a less than 1-inch incision, which means less risk of complication for our patients compared to patients who choose traditional open neck or back surgery.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today to receive a no-cost MRI review* to learn if you are a candidate for minimally invasive surgery.