Some factors increase your risk for developing facet arthritis and the aches and pains associated with it. They include:
Having a joint problem in your hand or foot doesn’t mean you’ll develop arthritis in your spine. However, joints that are not aligned due to inflammatory arthritis, injury, or subsequent arthritis can lead to greater wear and tear or damage to other joints. That’s why having osteoarthritis somewhere in your body can ultimately lead to arthritis in the joints of your spine.
These fluid-filled sacs develop along the spine. As the spine’s joints wear down, they release extra fluid. A sac can develop to catch this fluid, and multiple cysts can develop along the spine. Cysts are rarely bothersome until they start pressing on nerves.
Changes in disk height
As the space between the vertebral bodies shrinks, joint irritation and inflammation, as well as pressure on nerves, can increase. This shrinking space can cause additional wear and tear on the joints and eventually lead to or exacerbate existing facet arthritis.
Being overweight or dealing with obesity places additional stress on your joints. This extra pressure can lead to joint damage and arthritis.
Arthritis of all types becomes more common as you get older.
Men are more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the spine under the age of 45. Over the age of 45, women are more likely to develop it.
To reach a diagnosis, your doctor may conduct several types of tests, including:
Complete health history
Before a single blood test or imaging test is ordered, your doctor will likely want to learn about your symptoms. They’ll also want a complete health history, including information on problems or conditions you experience that may be unrelated to joint pain. Be sure to provide your doctor with details about when the pain is at its worst, what makes it better, and how long you’ve been experiencing it.
Once a written exam is complete, your doctor may perform a full physical exam. This could include checking your body for signs of damage or disease. They may ask you to move several limbs to examine your range of motion, muscle strength, and reflexes.
Your doctor may request an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to look for possible explanations for your symptoms. These tests allow your doctor to view the muscles and soft tissues around your back with greater detail.
Locating the exact source of your pain can help your doctor differentiate between many potential causes. Injecting an anesthetic into a particular joint is one method they may try. If the anesthetic numbs the joint and your pain goes away, your doctor knows its facet arthritis. If the pain remains, your doctor will continue their search. This procedure is also known as a facet block.
Doctors primarily treat facet arthritis with nonsurgical options. Recovery from the surgical options is sometimes difficult. Talk with your doctor to understand all of your options and weigh the pros and cons of each one.
The most common treatments for facet arthritis can often be used together for maximum benefit. These treatments include:
- Rest. For some, resting and reducing the use of the spine may help ease symptoms.
- Supports in bed. Specialty pillows and braces can make sleeping more comfortable. These devices may also reduce the pain you feel in the morning.
- Mild pain relievers. Pain relievers such as aspirin (Bayer) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may ease pain and relax muscles enough to end symptoms for brief periods of time.
- Muscle relaxers. If the pain is severe, prescription-strength medication can calm muscles and ease pain and tightness.
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you sitting, stretching, and sleeping exercises that relieve pain and prevent sore muscles and joints. As arthritis worsens, a physical therapist can also help you maintain strength and stamina.
If other treatments aren’t successful, surgery may be an option. Many of these procedures aren’t highly invasive, so recovery should be less time-consuming than it is for other forms of surgery. Types of surgery for facet arthritis include:
- Radiofrequency nerve ablation. During this procedure, radiofrequency waves (concentrated heat) are used to destroy nerves of the facet joints that send signals of pain to the brain.
Neck and back pain can be debilitating, but these conditions can be treated with medications, physical therapy, steroid injections, and sometimes surgery. It’s important to see your doctor to determine the cause of your discomfort. Tests may be necessary to ensure that other serious conditions are not causing your pain. The following conditions cause symptoms similar to facet arthritis and should be ruled out:
- Bulging or ruptured disks
- Skeletal irregularities
- Kidney problems
If your general practitioner believes you have facet arthritis, they may recommend that you see a specialist. A rheumatologist will focus on diseases and conditions that affect the bones, muscles, and joints. If you need surgery or more invasive treatment techniques, an appointment with an orthopedist may be necessary as well.
Precision Pain Care and Rehabilitation has two convenient locations in the Richmond Hill – Queens and New Hyde Park – Long Island. Call the Richmond Hill office at (718) 215-1888, or (516) 419-4480 for Long Island office, to arrange an appointment with our Interventional Pain Management Specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Chacko.