Why Does Facet Syndrome Develop?

What is Facet Syndrome?

Facet syndrome is a type of osteoarthritis that affects the small joints that link the vertebrae to form the spinal column. These hardworking joints allow the spine to bend, twist and flex through a wide range of motions.

Healthy facet joints are lined with protective cartilage, which allows bone surfaces to glide smoothly against each other. Facet syndrome causes cartilage to break down and wear away over time. This can lead to painful bone-on-bone contact and facet joint inflammation. In addition, sensitive nerve roots exit the spinal cord through openings between the vertebrae (foramina), and a swollen facet joint can potentially compress one of these nerve roots. A pressured nerve root can produce several uncomfortable symptoms, including radiating pain, muscle weakness, numbness, and tingling sensations.

Facet Syndrome Causes

In many cases, facet syndrome does not have one single cause but rather can be attributed to a combination of several factors, such as age-related degeneration, cumulative wear and tear, and spinal injuries, all of which can lead to pressure overload on the facet joints. Here is a common progression of how facet syndrome develops:

  • Over time, the spinal discs, which cushion and separate the vertebrae, can dry out and begin to collapse. As a result, the space between each pair of vertebrae will become narrower, pushing the facet joints out of alignment. This can pressure the cartilage surfaces on the facet joints and eventually damage the cartilage.
  • As the smooth cartilage coating wears away from facet joint surfaces, movement causes friction, stiffness, and pain.
  • Protective bony deposits (bone spurs) may naturally form around weakened facet joints. Bone spurs can take up space in the foramina and press on spinal nerve roots.
  • As bone spurs grow, they may encroach on the spinal canal and cause the space within it to become narrower (a condition known as spinal stenosis). Spinal stenosis can lead to nerve compression.

Treatment Options

A specialist will often recommend physical therapy for treating facet syndrome symptoms. A well-rounded rehabilitation program can enhance spinal flexibility and muscle strength, reduce pain and inflammation, and allow patients to perform daily activities more easily. Additionally, osteoarthritis pain often responds well to activity modifications, medications, and corticosteroid injections.

Contact BEST Health System if you need additional information regarding facet syndrome symptoms. Our board-certified surgeons are working with new patients to help them find relief.