FAQ\’s on Facet Joint Syndrome
What is Facet Joint Syndrome?
When the facet joints of the spine have been damaged as a result of arthritic inflammation and are causing pain, a patient might be experiencing facet joint syndrome. This syndrome is the collection of symptoms directly caused by damage to these joints, which are small protrusions of bone off the spine. The facet joints house the spinal nerve roots, protecting and directing them from the spine into the surrounding tissue of the arms, legs, and abdomen.
Facet joints are also a large factor in the movement range of the spine, as they allow for the flexibility between the vertebrae. They are located on each level of the spine and composed of bone and cartilage, making them susceptible to the same arthritic degradation that other joints may experience from activity.
What causes Facet Joint Syndrome?
The common reason behind facet joint syndrome is arthritic inflammation in or around a facet joint. As arthritic damage can occur from use of the joints, nearly every person will experience some degree of arthritic damage during their life. When this damage is severe enough to cause inflammation however, it can be a very painful condition for the patient.
One of the common results of arthritic inflammation in the facet joints is the formation of bone spurs, which can damage surrounding tissue and may also compress one or more of the spinal nerves associated with the facet joint. Swelling due to inflammation can cause the same reactions in a patient, creating pain within the joint and potentially lowering the strength of the limbs if one or more nerves have been compressed.
It is also possible for a patient to have facet joint syndrome due to direct spinal injury. There are a number of factors that may increase the chance of developing this syndrome, including over-activity of the area due to occupation or hobbies, disease and conditions such as gout or osteoporosis, or a family history of complications in the facet joints.
The symptoms of Facet Joint Syndrome
The symptoms a patient will experience change based on which joint of the spine is affected, and on the severity of the condition itself. Common symptoms include pain localized to the area of the damaged joint, feelings of tenderness on the body over the joint, and a loss of mobility of the spine in the affected area. Symptoms may worsen if the condition is left untreated, and depending on the cause, may spread to include multiple facet joints given enough time.
Location specific symptoms include headaches and a feeling of numbness in the arms if a cervical joint is affected, pain felt in the abdomen and a partial loss of bladder control or intestinal complications if an abdominal facet is affected, or pain that shoots down the buttocks and legs that may worsen when sitting if the joint affected is in the lumbar spine.
How is Facet Joint Syndrome diagnosed?
Achieving an accurate diagnosis is one of the most important factors in the treatment of facet joint syndrome, and can be difficult due to the complexity of the spine. A thorough examination of the patient will be conducted, with specific diagnostic imaging techniques sued on the spine to investigate the potentially damaged joints. X-rays will be used to examine the bone of the joints to check for damage, with either an MRI or a CT scan used to examine the surrounding tissue.
Patients may also be given a diagnostic nerve block in cases where the one or more nerves have potentially been compressed. If pain relief is achieved through the block, it may be determined that a nerve is compressed and requires treatment.
Treatment options for Facet Joint Syndrome
The first step in the treatment of facet joint syndrome is to alleviate the symptoms with medication while a diagnosis is made. Patients who do not see improvement over time may be advised to undergo surgical correction of the joints to obtain relief. Patients who have confirmation of a compressed nerve may receive a therapeutic nerve block to provide relief.