Facet Joint Arthritis: Definition

The facet joint, also known as the zygapophysial joint is synovial joint of the planar type. The facet joint is formed by two inferior processes descending from an upper vertebra and two superior processes ascending from the lower vertebra.

The primary function of the facet joint is to prevent over torsion or twisting in the spine.

Development of arthritis or osteophytes on the bones of the facet joint inhibits the motion of the joint and can cause back pain. Often the appearance of arthritis is coupled with the appearance of degenerative disc disease or injury to the vertebrae. Degenerative disc disease causes a reduction in the height of the intervertebral disc space, putting more stress on the facet joint. Repeated stress on the surfaces of bones can cause osteophytes to grow.

Facet Joint Arthritis: Pain Profile

Typically the sufferer of facet joint arthritis has back pain in the morning, which decreases during the day as movement helps lubricate the joint. However, the pain returns by the end of the day, as daily activity increases stress on the joint.

Facet Joint Arthritis: Conservative Treatment

Stretching of the back, legs and hips have been known to help sufferers. Sometimes massage, chiropractic care, pain relievers and acupunture have also been known to help. Conservative treatments should be tried before surgery.

Facet Joint Arthritis: When Surgery is Needed

When conservative has failed, it becomes time to consider surgery. Historically, fusion has been used to restore disc height in cases with degenerative disc disease, but now artificial disc replacement has become the preferred treatment. If the intervertebral disc is not involved, certain types of facet arthroplasty may be prescribed.