What is Facet Joint Arthritis?
There are two facet joints on each vertebrae of the spinal column. One is pointing upward and one is pointing down. They connect with the appropriate facet joint on the vertebrae above and below. These joints are also named zygapophyseal joints or Apophyseal Joints. These joints are synovial joints within the spine meaning that they are surrounded by a capsule with fluid in it that facilitates nutrition and helps with smooth motion. These joints are susceptible to arthritis just like any other joint in the body.
What are the Causes of Facet Joint Arthritis?
Facet joint arthritis is usually a result of Osteoarthritis, or a normal wear and tear on the joints and deterioration of cartilage over time. Some factors that may contribute to facet joint arthritis are:
- Trauma such as from a car accident, particularly in the case of Whiplash
- Bone spur formation: The formation of bone spurs is the body’s response to create new bone to replace the bone that has been worn away by arthritis
- Degeneration of the intervertebral discs may contribute to Facet Joint Arthritis as this will cause increased pressure to be placed on the facet joint
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Facet Joint Arthritis Symptoms
Arthritis in the facet joints can be a very painful condition as your spine is involved in nearly every movement that you perform. Whatever level of the spine that you are experiencing symptoms from facet joint arthritis, there will usually be a constant point of tenderness on your back where the facet joint is inflamed.
Symptoms of Facet Joint Arthritis is affecting the cervical spine, the neck, are:
- Neck pain which can radiate to the back of the head and behind the ear
- Pain can also be experienced in the upper back, shoulder blade area, or upper arms
- Muscle spasms in the upper back
- Grinding sound when attempting to rotate the neck
- Pain that is generally worse in the morning and eases as the day goes on
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Symptoms of facet joint arthritis located in the lumbar spine, the low back, are:
- Low back pain
- Pain upon waking
- Pain that increase when bending your body into extension (backward) or to one side
- Bone spurs
Treatment for Facet Joint Arthritis
Treatment for Facet joint arthritis is similar to that of other arthritic joints throughout the body. These treatments may consist of:
- Physical therapy in order to restore range of motion and strength that may have been lost as well as to provide education to the patient of proper movement so as not to exacerbate the pain. This will include education about maintaining good posture and body mechanics
- A change in daily activities and taking rest breaks when needed
- Over-the-counter Anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen
- Cortisone injections into the offending joint
- A cervical collar may be suggested to wear for a while
- As a last resort, a procedure called a Rhizotomy may be considered. This procedure which can relieve back pain by severing the nerve roots at the location of the facet joints