What is Facet Arthritis?

Facet arthritis, also known as facet joint osteoarthritis or facet arthropathy, is a degenerative condition that affects the facet joints in the spine. Facet joints are small, paired joints located on the back of the vertebrae, and they play a role in stabilizing the spine and enabling smooth movement between adjacent vertebrae.

What Causes Facet Arthritis?

  • Facet arthritis is primarily caused by the wear and tear of the facet joints over time, which is a natural part of the aging process.
  • The gradual breakdown of the cartilage that covers the joint surfaces leads to friction between the bones, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness.

What are the Symptoms of Facet Arthritis?

  • The most common symptom of facet arthritis is back pain, which may be localized to the affected area and worsen with movement or prolonged periods of inactivity.
  • The pain can radiate into the buttocks, hips, or thighs, depending on the location of the affected facet joints.
  • Stiffness and limited range of motion in the spine are also common, especially after periods of rest.

What are the Treatment Options for Facet Arthritis?

Treatment for facet arthritis is usually conservative in the initial stages and may include:

    • Pain management with over-the-counter or prescription medications.
    • Physical therapy to improve flexibility, strengthen the muscles supporting the spine, and learn proper body mechanics to reduce strain on the facet joints.
    • Heat or ice therapy to alleviate pain and inflammation.
    • Injections of corticosteroids or local anesthetics into the facet joints to provide temporary pain relief and reduce inflammation.
  • If conservative treatments do not provide sufficient relief, or if there are complications like nerve compression or spinal instability, surgical intervention may be considered. Surgical options may include facet joint denervation (radiofrequency ablation) or spinal fusion.

How Can Facet Arthritis be Prevented?

  • While facet arthritis is a normal part of aging, certain lifestyle habits can help reduce the risk of its progression, such as maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular exercise to keep the spine strong and flexible, and practicing good posture and body mechanics.

It’s essential for individuals experiencing chronic or worsening back pain or related symptoms to seek evaluation and advice from a healthcare professional. Early diagnosis and appropriate management can help alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals with facet arthritis.