The Causes & Treatments for Facet Arthropathy

Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: September 6, 2018

Facet Arthropathy

On each side of your spinal vertebrae are two joints that aid in stabilization and they are known as facet joints. These joints wear down over time, and eventually, a type of osteoarthritis known as facet arthropathy may develop. Left untreated, this can cause pain and discomfort, as well as the onset of bigger problems, like cysts or spinal instability. Below, we take a closer look at what causes the condition, and how facet arthropathy is treated.

Causes and Symptoms

As we noted above, facet arthropathy is caused by facet joint degeneration, but the breakdown of these joints is usually tied to another issue – disc degeneration. Our discs lose a little height through natural wear and tear as we age, and this disc degeneration can lead to abnormal stress and pressure on your facet joints. This can cause facet joint deformity or inhibited movement and the onset of facet arthropathy. Aside from wear and tear, acute trauma and certain genetic conditions can lead to the development of facet arthropathy.

Symptoms of facet arthropathy include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Instability
  • Cyst development
  • Discomfort when bending or standing
  • Headaches
  • Pinched nerves
  • Spinal stenosis

Symptoms are most likely to occur in the lumbar portion of the spine or in the neck area, where the joints handle the most stress and motion.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis process begins with a physical exam by Dr. Sinicropi to look for the telltale signs of facet arthropathy. After talking about your symptoms and having you perform some movement tests, they may order an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to confirm their suspicions. If bone loss or spinal inflammation is present, a diagnosis of facet arthropathy will likely be made.

After diagnosis, your doctor will walk you through your treatment options, which typically begins with some standard conservative care techniques. This will include things like stretching, activity modification and physical therapy. These treatments will help to reduce discomfort, prevent painful movements and strengthen structures in your spine.

If conservative care techniques don’t resolve your pain, a little more aggressive conservative treatment may be attempted. This may include corticosteroid injections to ease inflammation, or nerve ablation to take care of compression-related issues. Used in combination with other non-operative techniques, these are generally very effective options. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary, but it usually doesn’t progress to that point.

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