What is a Facet Disease?
Facet disease may also be referred to as facet syndrome and is the general term used to describe any painful degeneration of the facet joints in the spine. Facet disease is one of the leading causes of spine pain. The facet joints connect the vertebrae together. Each vertebrae in the spine has two facet joints which work as a tripod with the intervertebral discs to create support, stability and smooth movement.
Like other joints in the body, the facet joints are lined with cartilage to help absorb the shock and pressure put on the spine and facets on a daily basis. In addition to the weight they bare, these joints are put through constant, repetitive motion every day. Overtime, this causes the cartilage to breakdown and the joints to become inflamed.
As we age, or with acute trauma, these joints can wear down and this may cause pain. This pain is what is referred to as Facet Disease or Facet Syndrome. Patients often refer to this pain as soreness or stiffness.
Types of Facet Disease
Although most common in the lumbar spine, face syndrome can occur anywhere within the vertebral column.
- Cervical Facet Disease: Characterized by pain at the base of the skull, neck, upper back and shoulders. Sometimes it can even cause mid-back pain. Patients also complain of headaches, usually at the base of the skull and some have experienced ringing in their ears.
- Thoracic Facet Disease: The most uncommon type of facet syndrome and refers to degeneration of the joints in the thoracic spine. Commonly, patients complain of mid-back pain or pain just below the shoulders.
- Lumbar Facet Disease: Most commonly diagnosed form of facet syndrome. It is characterized by lower back pain. This pain may radiate down toward the buttocks and thighs, much like sciatica. The lower back carries the brunt of the weight and stress of the body causing it to wear more quickly than the thoracic or cervical levels of the spine.
What are the Symptoms of Facet Disease?
The number one symptom is pain. The type of pain depends on the location of the degenerated joint and the extent of the injury. For example, cervical facet syndrome might cause headaches or shoulder pain. Lumber facet disease symptoms might include radiating pain in the buttocks or thighs. It is also important to note that some people affected by facet syndrome might not feel any pain at all.
- Pain or throbbing
- Radiating pain in extremities
- Tenderness near the joint
- Decreased mobility or flexibility
- Bone spurs
- Pain that is worse in the mornings
- Pain that is agitated by certain movements like twisting, bending or lifting
What Causes Facet Disease?
The causes of facet syndrome are extremely widespread making it one of the most common spine conditions in the world. As we age, normal wear and tear can breakdown the facet joints that carry much of the pressure of our spine. This can be exacerbated by abnormal posture, poor health, obesity, genetics or trauma. Common causes of facet disease are:
- Age and normal wear and tear
- Abnormal stress and strain
- Poor posture
- Poor health and smoking
- Lack of exercise
- Acute trauma such as car accident or sports injury
How is it Diagnosed?
After a general overview of the patient’s medical history and clinical evaluation, patients are often sent for imaging. This can include an MRI, x-ray or CT scan.
Patients may also receive diagnosis through facet injections. During this procedure, a numbing medicine is injected into the facet joint. If the patient feels relief, it’s likely that facet disease is the cause of the pain.
How is Facet Disease Treated?
Depending on the severity of the pain, facet syndrome sufferers will usually receive conservative, or nonsurgical treatment as their first option. Conservative treatment options can include: