Spinal Anatomy and the Role of Facets
The spine, also referred to as the spinal column is made up of several cylindrical-shaped bones stacked upon one another called vertebrae.
Vertebrae are separated from one another through intervertebral discs, which are made out of a soft nucleus and a hard outer shell. Other parts that are attached to a vertebral unit include various processes (pieces of bone), facets and joints.
Facets are what is referred to as the surfaces where two different spinal bones are joined. Facets are connected to one another through a type of synovial joints called facet joints, which are defined by the fact that the joint itself is wrapped in a structure called a joint capsule.
Together with spinal discs, facet joints help give the spine flexibility, allowing for each motion segment to bend in various directions.
Facets are present throughout the entire length of the spine, encompassing the lumbar spine, thoracic spine, and cervical spine, respectively. Facets in these regions can also be referred to by their names that correspond to a specific region.
As such, they can also be referred to as lumbar facets (present in the lower back), thoracic facets (present in the mid back), and cervical facets (present in the upper back and neck regions).
Back Problems that Can Arise
Problems with facets are not that common, but instead facet joint pain and degeneration are conditions that can affect many people. Pain originating due to facet joint issues can occur due to a different spinal disorder, namely degenerative disc disease.
As we age, spinal discs tend to lose a large part of the water they contain, and as such can shrink and reduce in height. This can cause an imbalance in the alignment of other nearing structures.
This makes it more likely for facet joints to be subject to physical stress. Additionally, as discs lose height, this can lead to something called spinal compression. When this happens, nerves can become pinched and cause pain.
People who suffer from issues with the facet joints may not experience any symptoms at first, but in time they may notice:
- Neck pain, if the affected facet joint is located in the neck region.
- Lower back pain, when a lumbar facet joint is affected.
- Muscle spasms along the back.
- Stiffness, often accompanied by reduced range of motion and reduced ability to bend or twist from side to side.
- Compression of nerve roots, which can trigger the pain.
Back problems and pain caused by facets and the joints in-between them can be addressed non-surgically. While the degeneration itself cannot be cured completely as it is part of the normal process of aging, the symptoms that appear can be managed through methods such as:
- Anti-inflammatory medication to obtain pain relief for a short period of time.
- Facet joint injections, which may relieve pain for a longer period of time than medication, but come with other side effects and drawbacks.
- Physical therapy, which can be beneficial especially for people who struggle with a restricted range of motion.
- Surgical intervention for severe cases.
- Engaging in spinal decompression therapy to minimise the effects of spinal compression caused by loss of height from the spinal discs, or facet joint problems. To decompress your spine, use a special orthopaedic device called the Spinal Backrack