What Is A Facet Joint?

Facet Joint Injury PainA joint is a joint that connects two or more bones in the body and functions to promote movement. The spine is made up of many vertebral segments. In the spine, the facet joints are the joints connecting each of the vertebrae. Each vertebra functions as a three-joint complex with a large disc in the front and two facet joints in the back. It is a strong tripod design that keeps the bones linked together while allowing the spine to twist and bend. The facet joints are lined with cartilage which is lubricated in synovial fluid and covered by a joint capsule. The facet joint’s job is to provide stability to enable healthy movements.

What Is A Facet Joint Injury & What Are the Causes?

A Facet Joint Injury is a painful and lingering issue that is due to damage of one more facet joints along the spine. It is similar to arthritis and can be the cause of back and neck pain. The pain is caused by degenerative changes to the joints between the spine bones. Basically, the cartilage inside the facet joint can break down and become inflamed which triggers pain signals in nerve endings.  When a facet joint is damaged, it is known as a facet joint syndrome or facet arthropathy. Facet joint injuries can be caused by falling, heavy lifting, sports injury, repetitive movements, twisting or jerking sideways, bending backwards, and even a car accident. Facet joint injuries are most common in both men and women between the ages of 40 and 70 and those who are prone to arthritis.

What Are The Symptoms For A Facet Joint Injury?

Surprisingly, a facet joint degeneration can be painless until something triggers the symptoms like a care accident. There are unique symptoms that will indicate if a pain is coming from the facet joints. The pain is often a dull ache in the lower back directly over the spine that can spread to the buttocks. The pain can also be felt in the back and shoulders of the skull. Certain movements like bending backwards or twisting sideways can cause pain. Even standing or sitting too long may increase the pain. Pain may be felt down the arms or legs. The pain may be chronic pain or can be periodic. Some additional symptoms include headaches, ringing in the ears, muscle stiffness and muscle spasms.

What Are The Treatments A Facet Joint Injury?

Facet joint injuries and arthritis cannot be reversed; however, there is lots of evidences that exercise, lifestyle changes and careful pain management can contribute to a better quality of life. Proper posture, weight loss, physical therapy, and medication can improve the pain level. If the conservative treatments do not work, a doctor may recommend injections, ablations or surgery. A steroid joint injection is an option that is minimally invasive. A corticosteroid and numbing agents are injected into the painful joint reducing swelling and inflammation around the nerves resulting in pain relief that lasts for days to years. A nerve radiofrequency ablation is another option after the steroid joint injection. An ablation is a procedure where the tiny nerves around the facet’s joint capsule are burned. A nerve blog test is used along with an anesthetic as part of the procedure. If the block is successful, a radiofrequency ablation will likely provide lasting pain relief. Surgery is one of the final options after all others have failed. Spinal fusion surgery is used where there is a nerve root compression from enlarged facet joints, degenerative disc disease or spinal instability. The fusing of the spinal vertebra keeps the damaged facet joints from moving and causing pain.

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