Facet syndrome is a skeletal condition wherein the facet joints in the spine degenerate. This degeneration leads to the development of back pains because the spine does not effectively support the back. Facet syndrome most commonly affects the lumbar spine and may be found at every level of the lumbar vertebrae. However, it can also develop along the cervical vertebrae causing difficulty in rotating the neck.
The facet joints are responsible for the ability of the spine to twist making it very important in the range of motion activities of the spine. Also, they prevent the slipping of each of the spine over the other vertebrae. The facet joints also generally provide the weight bearing abilities of the lumbar spine. In every joint, there is a capsule that surrounds it that serves as a protection of the joint. Facet joints are enclosed by small capsules that keep the joints nourished and lubricated.
The most causes of facet syndrome are arthritis and physical injury. Repetitive trauma to the spine may cause wear and tear and subsequently damage to the facet joints. Arthritic changes cause the joints to get stiff and inflamed.
When the facet joints degenerate, they often affect the small nerves passing through them leading to a feeling of back pain. The inflammation in the joints also cause muscle spasms around the area contributing to back pain.
Dealing with facet syndrome is very important because the pain usually cause debilitation and reduction in mobility. In this line, managements are employed to reduce symptoms and to aid in the recovery of the joints. Most common treatment modalities include:
- Physical therapy
The main management for facet syndrome is physical therapy. This may involve proper positioning and body mechanics to reduce the symptoms and to prevent further damage to the joints. Exercises can also be employed to increase the flexibility of the joints and aid in repair.
Rest is also employed through avoidance of activities that aggravate the pain such as twisting the spine and lifting heavy weights. Bed rest should be employed for a maximum of 2 days because prolonged bed rest can have negative effects in the musculoskeletal system.
- Pain relief
Another important management in dealing with facet syndrome is the use of pain killers to improve the comfort of patients. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used to relieve pain and inflammation. Muscle relaxants are commonly administered to relieve painful muscle spasms. Cryotherapy or the use of cold treatments as well as heat application may also be used to relieve muscle spasms and pain.
- Spinal manipulation
Spinal manipulation can also be attempted to reduce pain. Chiropractors usually employ manual manipulation of the spine to maintain the normal alignment of the vertebrae and reduce pressure on the spinal nerves.
When all these conservative managements are not effective to relieve symptoms, more aggressive treatment modalities such as radiofrequency ablation and facet median branch block using local anesthesia may also be employed.
Dealing with facet syndrome starts with prevention. In such case, maintaining a regular exercise program helps in promoting range of motion and preventing degeneration of the joints.