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Facet disease

Facet disease, also known as spinal osteoarthritis, is a very common condition that is characterized by the deterioration of cartilage in the spine’s facet joints. These joints connect vertebrae and provide stability to the spine. If left untreated, facet disease can cause reduced mobility, pain from bone-on-bone friction and other disabling symptoms.

Causes of facet disease

The body’s natural aging process is most often to blame for the onset of facet disease. Years of wear and tear can cause the cartilage that cushions the facet joints to thin and deteriorate, making the joints inflamed, tender and stiff.

While everyone will undergo some level of spinal degeneration with age, individuals with certain risk factors are more likely to experience accelerated degeneration. These risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Having a history of spinal trauma
  • Maintaining poor posture
  • Participating in high-impact exercise
  • Working in an industry that requires frequent lifting, bending or sitting
  • Having a family history of degenerative spine conditions
  • Using tobacco or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol

Symptoms of facet disease

The symptoms of facet disease can vary according to the severity of the degeneration, whether or not it has caused nerve compression and where specifically it is located in the spine (most cases of facet disease are present in the neck, known as the cervical spine). Localized pain is considered the most common symptom, but radiating pain may also be present in the upper or lower body.

Facet disease diagnosis and treatment

The first step to diagnosing facet disease is to consult with a primary care physician. This physician will evaluate the patient’s symptoms and medical history, and may recommend a diagnostic facet injection to confirm whether or not the pain is originating in the facet joints.

Most physicians suggest a combination of conservative treatments to help patients manage their pain and improve mobility. Some common treatments for facet disease include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Medication to reduce inflammation and/or pain
  • Water therapy
  • Correcting posture, improving diet and other lifestyle modifications
  • Back bracing
  • Alternative therapies, such as yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic care

Surgery for facet disease

The majority of facet disease patients do not require surgery. However, those who continue to experience debilitating symptoms despite months of conservative therapies may be considered candidates for surgical treatment.

Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive spine surgery for patients with facet disease. Unlike traditional open spine surgeries, our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and use a less than 1-inch incision. The muscle-sparing techniques used by our board-certified surgeons+ allow our patients to experience a shorter recovery period^ compared to patients who choose traditional open spine surgery.

Contact Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia today for a no-cost MRI review* to learn if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.