10 Feb What is Facet Syndrome?
From a geometric point of view, your spine is made up of a series of oddly-shaped tripods stacked one on top of the other. These are called vertebra. In the front section is a cup-shaped bone separated by spongy discs, which allows for flexibility. Facing the rear – the dorsal side – are the facet joints, one on either side. These also provide support and flexibility.
Back pain can result from problems in the front section of your vertebra or in the spongy discs that separate them. Problems can result from weakness or deterioration of the bone, which can occur as we age. Or problems can result from a slipped or ruptured disc, which is also frequently caused by age. As we get older, the discs lose water content, thus becoming stiffer and less flexible.
Facet syndrome can occur at any vertebra from your neck to your lower back (the lumbar region). Facet syndrome is, essentially, an over-use condition, as we are almost constantly moving our spines. They are rarely still for very long. Meanwhile, just as the front of the vertebra is separated by discs, the facet joints are separated by cartilage, which helps the bones to slide, rather than grind against each other. As we age, however, that cartilage begins to wear down and break down.
Facet syndrome is not just common; it’s normal. Cartilage doesn’t last forever. However, when the condition gets advanced, the bone starts grinding on bone, which is a problem that leads to arthritis and bone spurs, which are bone growths that can be painful.
What causes facet syndrome?
While wear and tear of cartilage are normal, various factors can hasten the process, causing facet syndrome to become painful. The primary contributing causes of facet syndrome are:
- Being overweight
- Frequent motion that comes from various occupations or sports
- Genetics can contribute to facet syndrome
- Injuries such as whiplash can contribute
- Injuries from lifting very heavy objects
- Age is a contributing factor – especially when over 50
Symptoms of Facet Syndrome
The spine is divided into three regions. The top section, which includes the neck, is the cervical area. The thoracic region is comprised of the 12 vertebrae in the middle of the back, while the lower section is the lumbar region. Facet syndrome most often occurs in the cervical area of the neck, followed by the lumbar region of the lower back. The thoracic section is the least likely to develop facet syndrome.
The symptoms of facet syndrome, however, distinguish this condition from other back problems. The specific symptoms are:
- Pain that tends to diminish once someone moves around. The pain often increases with too much immobility. Sitting in a car, for example, for long periods, can make the pain increase
- Cervical facet syndrome is often accompanied by a stiff neck and headaches at the back of the head or the base of the skull
- Neck pain that is severe enough to radiate through the back or arms
- Numbness in arms or legs
Diagnosing Facet Syndrome
- A complete physical and history taking are generally done before moving to imaging techniques that can confirm the diagnosis. It is recommended that patients seek help from a pain management specialist, as the symptoms are specific, but can also imitate symptoms of other conditions. A pain management doctor can make the distinction between different conditions with similar symptoms.
Pain management for facet syndrome
Surgery may be recommended to remove bone spurs. Otherwise, a variety of pain-blocking or pain disruption techniques can be used. Common options include:
- Facet joint steroids done at a pain management clinic
- Medial nerve blocks
- High-frequency neuromodulation that disrupts pain signals going to the brain.
Concerned about back pain?
The experts at Sorrento Valley Pain Relief Center in San Diego can help you devise a long-term strategy for pain mitigation. Call 858-404-5944 for help as soon as possible.