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What Leads to Facet Joint Degeneration?

What are facet joints?

The core section of the human spine is made out of bony formations called vertebrae. The vertebrae can be categorised into three groups: lumbar, thoracic and cervical.

The lumbar vertebrae represent the lower back region of the spine, and are thicker than the other two groups, as they bear the responsibility of supporting the upper body.

Thoracic vertebrae represent the longest segment of the back and are responsible for carrying the rib cage that is attached to this section.

The cervical region of the spine represents covers the upper region of the back, including the neck. It is responsible for supporting the head and the uppermost two vertebrae allow for movement of the head.

All of these vertebrae are connected to each other by a specific type of synovial joints called facet joints. They allow the motion segments of the spine to move around, and subsequently allow the spine to perform various motions up to a certain degree.

While these joints allow for movement to occur, at the same time they restrict the spine’s range of motion, preventing it from bending too much, as to not harm the spinal nerves.

Facet joints are present in all three sections of the spine: lumbar spine (lower section of the back), thoracic spine (middle section of the back), and the cervical spine (upper section of the back). Degeneration of the spine can occur in any of these three regions.

facet joint degeneration

What Causes Facet Joints to Wear Down?

Because of the function they serve, facet joints are frequently placed under physical pressure, either due to intense physical labour or just due to daily activities.

Facet joints, can become worn down and suffer from facet joint disease, due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • Normal wear and tear associated with an aging spine. Because of the rubbing motion that these facets perform, the bones may become chipped with time, and are not as smooth as in a young person.
  • Degenerative disc disease. This issue causes the intervertebral discs to wear down and results in the lessening of the space between the vertebrae. Because of this, the pressure on the facet joints increases.

Lumbar facets are especially prone to degeneration as they bear the weight of the upper body and as a result sustain extensive pressure.

What Are the Signs That Your Facet Joints Are Not Healthy?

When these joints become worn down, this can lead to a condition called facet joint syndrome. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • Back pain. This can occur in any region of the back, be it upper, middle or lower back.
  • Neck pain. Because the bones in the neck are comprised of cervical vertebrae, joint degeneration can occur in this region as well.
  • Hip pain. Sometimes, if the lumbar facet joints (or lumbar facets) are the ones to be affected by degeneration, they can cause pain that radiates to other parts of the body. In this case, due to their proximity, they can reflect pain to the hips.
  • Buttock pain.
  • Pain in the upper part of the thighs. Pain from affected facets can radiate even lower into the thighs region of the body.
  • Muscle spasms in the back.
  • Stiffness in the back or neck.

Possible Complications

As the facets become more worn down and inflamed, it can lead to other complications such as the nerve roots of the spine becoming entrapped due to spinal compression (mostly due to the thinning out of the spinal discs), bone spurs may appear, and spinal osteoarthritis may develop.

Diagnosis

In order to discover if any of your symptoms are caused by degeneration at the level of the spinal facets and not by a different factor or medical condition, it is recommended that you seek medical advice from a spinal specialist.

Depending on how difficult it is to pinpoint the cause of your pain, the diagnosing process may take place in a few stages.
Initially, the specialist will conduct a physical examination around the affected region of your back to check for any other symptoms or visible deformities.

During this examination, you will be asked relevant question to further understand the extent of your problem.

If a cause for concern is detected during this process, or if the exact cause of your symptoms cannot be determined, you may be asked to undergo further tests such as an MRI, CT scan or X-ray to rule out more serious conditions such as fractures and tumours.

However, if you receive a confirmation that the source of your pain in your back is caused by the degeneration of facets in your spine, you may then proceed to finding an appropriate treatment plan for your set of symptoms.

How Can Facet Joint Disorders Be Treated?

Because degeneration of the facets may lead to changes in the bone structure of your back, it may sometimes be challenging to treat this condition. When seeking treatment in this case, one must keep in mind the severity of the degeneration, as well as the time that the problem has been present for. With that being said, treatment options for this condition include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication to temporarily relieve pain in the back, neck, or other areas affected by facet degeneration.
  • Physical therapy that can help restore mobility in the affected region(s) of the spine.
  • Injections that can temporarily relieve pain.
  • Spinal surgery. This should only be considered as a last resort, if all the other methods have not provided the desired result.
  • Our solution:
Spinal Backrack Conditions

 

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