Treating Spinal Facet Joint Osteoarthritis

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

Spinal Facet Joint Arthritis

Osteoarthritis, oftentimes referred to as degenerative arthritis, is categorized by the loss of cartilage between joints. If joints try to move without ample cushioning from the cartilage, a person may experience pain, stiffness and a loss of range of motion. Osteoarthritis is more common in your knees and elbows, but it can also develop in the facet joints in your back. Today, we take a closer look at spinal facet joint osteoarthritis, and how the problem is treated.

Osteoarthritis of Spinal Facet Joints

You facet joints are located on the posterior portion of your spine. The joint is comprised of two opposing bony surfaces separated by cartilage, and there is also a capsule around the joint that produces fluid to keep the joint lubricated to help facilitate movement. When facet joint arthritis sets in, cartilage breaks down and there is more friction in the joint, limiting range of motion and making movement painful.

A typical day in the life of someone with spinal osteoarthritis generally starts with pain in the morning. Your muscles and joints are in a relaxed state throughout the night, so the joint won’t be well lubricated as you step out of bed and take your first steps. Pain is usually more pronounced in the morning, but as your joints get warmed up and lubricated, pain generally starts to subside. Back pain typically increases later in the day as you go through periods of rest and then activity, and as stress wears down the joints throughout the day.

Treating Pain From Spinal Facet Joint Osteoarthritis

Conservative treatment of facet joint osteoarthritis has two similar goals – prevent pain from getting worse and work to maintain and improve range of motion in the joint. Here are some conservative treatment methods that work to achieve this goal:

  • Stretching exercises targeted at the lumbar spine and hip joints can help prevent pain from worsening.
  • Aqua therapy can help take pressure off the joints while you work to increase range of motion.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications can reduce inflammation and discomfort in the joint.
  • Light to moderate aerobic exercises can strengthen areas around the joint and promote healthy blood flow in the area.
  • Chiropractic manipulation.

If conservative treatments fail, surgery may be an option, however unlike other operations, surgery is not going to return you to a pre-injury state. The goal of spinal facet joint surgery is to stop motion at the injured joint. However, if multiple vertebral levels are impacted by osteoarthritis, a fusion operation isn’t usually pursued.

Minnesota Spine Surgeon

If surgery is performed, you’ll follow a rehab plan that closely mimics conservative treatments. When movement is allowed by your doctor, you’ll be given stretching exercises and strength training regimens to maintain range of motion in nearby facet joints. For more information about the surgery, call our office to set up a consultation with a spine specialist.

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