What is Facet Joint Syndrome?
Facet joint syndrome explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors
Facet joints (also known as the zygapophyseal joints) are a pair of small, stabilizing joints located in the posterior area of the spine. The central purpose of facet joints is to connect the spine’s vertebrae together. The joints are covered with cartilage and surrounded by a lubricated capsule that allows each vertebra to move fluidly. The facet joints have internal and external nerve roots that travel from the spinal cord to other regions of the body, such as the arms and legs. Not only do these joints provide stability and mobility in the body, but they also assist in allowing the spine to reach, twist, and stretch.
Facet joint syndrome (also known as facet joint pain) tends to arise when there is degeneration or damage to the facet joints. Conditions such as joint injury or arthritis can cause inflammation of the joints, which results in the patient experiencing pain within that area of the joint.
The most common symptoms reported by patients suffering from facet joint syndrome are:
- Stiffness of the back and joints
- Tenderness in the area of inflammation
- Pain in the lower back, thighs, or buttocks
- Shoulder pain
- Loss of muscle flexibility near the spine
Causes of Facet Joint Syndrome
One of the causes of facet joint syndrome is degenerative arthritis, which frequently results in pain resonating in the lower back and buttocks. Studies have shown that a large number of patients who have been diagnosed with facet joint syndrome suffer from chronic back pain.
The condition spondylolisthesis can also be a cause of facet joint syndrome. This medical condition occurs when a patient’s vertebra slides forward or backward in relation to the subsequent vertebra. Spondylolisthesis can result in the narrowing of the spinal canal and other spinal irregularities.
Any type of trauma or injury to the spine can initiate facet joint syndrome. Inflammation and irritation from everyday pressure and stress on the joints, prior neck or back problems, and serious strain to the spine can all cause the onset of this condition. Even the most insignificant injuries, such as people injuring themselves by tripping during a walk or bending over to pick up a utensil off the floor, can trigger facet joint syndrome. Severe trauma, like injuries sustained during a motor vehicle accident, can also result in the development of this condition.
Treatments for Facet Joint Syndrome
In most cases, a physician will first administer a physical exam as well as a diagnostic facet injection to identify whether a patient has developed facet joint syndrome. The facet injection will consist of an anesthetic being inserted into the problem area of the joint. If the patient experiences instant pain relief after the injection, then it can be confirmed that the patient is suffering from facet joint syndrome. A patient that does not feel pain relief after the injection will need to have further diagnostic tests administered to confirm the medical condition.
For patients with mild cases of facet joint syndrome, treatment plans will normally begin with conservative types of therapy, like rest, relaxation techniques, guided imagery, physical therapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In addition, treatment options such as joint injections, medial branch blocks, and intra-articular peripheral joint injections have shown to be effective in controlling pain relief, with effects lasting anywhere from a few months to a year.
Other therapies that have been used to treat patients with facet joint syndrome are antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and opioid medications. The goal of any kind of treatment plan using prescribed medication is to reduce usage as the patient’s symptoms subside and until the medication is no longer needed.
Patients who do not feel conservative types of therapy have been successful may find radiofrequency ablation (RFA) to provide considerable relief. This procedure is performed by using an electrical current to heat a small portion of the nerve tissue in order to decrease the pain sensations being delivered from that inflamed area.
Facet joint syndrome develops when the body’s facet joints experience inflammation due to degeneration or injury. The condition is very common and is frequently caused by degenerative arthritis, injury, or back pain. Even small, insignificant types of injuries, such as contorting the body “the wrong way,” can cause facet joint syndrome.
Before a treatment plan can be developed, a diagnostic facet injection will be administered to the patient in order to confirm the diagnosis. Once the condition has been confirmed, therapy options can be explored based on the patient’s symptoms and their severity. Numerous types of treatments have been found to effectively reduce painful symptoms associated with facet joint syndrome, in both mild and severe cases.
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