Facet degeneration is also known as facet disease, facet hypertrophy, and facet arthritis and happens when a facet joint deteriorates. Facet joints connect the spinal vertebrae to each other. A facet joint provides mobility, stability, and support to the spine.
Facet degeneration can occur when the cartilage in a facet joint is worn down due to wear and tear from work, overuse, arthritis, or as a result of the natural aging process. An experienced pain management doctor can provide a proper diagnosis with a thorough physical exam or a diagnostic facet injection.
People who suffer from facet degeneration often present an abnormal curvature in the spine, numbness or weakness in the legs or arms, headaches at the base of the skull, ringing ears, aching behind the eyes.
Other symptoms include low back pain that also affects the buttocks, thighs, or pelvic area, and the sound of bone rubbing against bone during movement might become audible.
Additional signs are neck pain that extends to the head, arms, and shoulders, and pain that becomes worse with changes in the weather and at the beginning and end of the day.
There are many contributing factors to facet joint degeneration. Facet joints are covered in cartilage which allows the joints to hinge smoothly and freely. Over time, cartilage loses water and collagen fibers dry out, thinning the cartilage and making it more difficult or painful for joints to hinge. This is a natural part of the ageing process. This process is exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle. Immobility contributes to reduced circulation and muscle mass, and often accompanies an increase in weight, which in turn puts more strain on joints.
In addition to a person’s base activity level, there are additional factors that contribute to facet joint degeneration. These include obesity, genetics, physical sex, overexertion, injury, illness, infection, and poor posture. All of these various factors play a role in the wear and tear on joints, and joints that undergo more strain will be at greater risk for facet joint degeneration.
A diagnostic facet injection may be administered and consists of a numbing medication injected into the facet joint. If the facet joint is the cause of the pain the pain should cease immediately.
Spinal stenosis or a herniated/bulging disc may be the problem if the pain persists after the facet injection has been administered and will require different treatments such as radiofrequency neurotomy and medial branch blocks.
While it is impossible to avoid some risk factors for facet joint degeneration, such as ageing, it is certainly possible to limit one’s risk in other areas. Staying fit and healthy will have a positive impact on joint health, as this will strengthen the heart and supporting muscles. Maintaining a healthy weight will reduce the impact on joints, and sticking to a healthful diet will increase joint lubrication, improve autoimmune response, and help to maintain a healthy weight. Stress can also be a contributing factor, and regular meditation or yoga can help to minimize this risk. Finally, frequent use of tobacco and alcohol increases one’s risk for facet degeneration disorder significantly, as the consumption of these substances leads to decreased circulation and drier joints.
In general, the biggest risk factor for facet joint degeneration is the presence of a sedentary lifestyle. Those who are largely sedentary have a much higher risk factor than people who keep active. Even low-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, and light weight training can have a significant preventative effect.