As you age, the wear-and-tear on your joints over the years can begin to take its toll in the form of osteoarthritis (OA), which affects 32.5 million Americans and counting. While major joints like your knees, hips, and shoulders are often in the line of fire when it comes to OA, there are small joints called facet joints in your spine that can also succumb.
As our name implies — Spine & Orthopedic Center — Dr. Rajiv Sood and the team are well versed in the many conditions that affect the spine, including facet joint osteoarthritis or facet joint syndrome.
Below, we take a deeper dive into facet joint osteoarthritis and some of the more common signs of this condition.
Before we get into some warning signs of facet joint syndrome, let’s spend a little time reviewing the anatomy we’re discussing.
Your spine consists of 33 vertebrae; each of these bony structures features two facet joints on either side. These are true synovial joints, meaning they exist inside a capsule that protects and lubricates the joint.
In each facet joint, there’s also cartilage, which allows for smooth gliding between the bony surfaces in your facet joints.
With facet joint OA, the cartilage breaks down, and there’s more friction inside the joint between the bones. This issue tends to develop in areas of your spine that enjoy the most movement — your cervical spine (neck) and your lumbar spine (lower back).
As with osteoarthritis in any joint, pain and inflammation are the primary signs of this wear-and-tear disease. Because this disease tends to strike the neck and the back, let’s break down the symptoms into these two areas:
When it comes to neck pain, facet joint involvement is found in 35%-42% of patients, which means the condition accounts for more than its fair share of the problem.
If the facet joints in your upper neck are involved, it can lead to pain and stiffness where your neck meets your skull. The pain can also affect the back of your head and can lead to headaches.
If the facet joints further down in your neck develop OA, the discomfort can affect your lower neck, as well as your shoulders and upper back.
If you develop facet joint OA in your lumbar spine, you will likely feel lower back pain and stiffness. These symptoms are often worse when you first get up in the morning. As you get moving, the joints become more lubricated, and you can move more easily.
Then, toward the end of the day, your lower back might become more painful and stiff again as the day’s activities catch up with the arthritic joints in your spine and inflammation flares.
If you recognize any of the symptoms we describe, it’s a good idea to come see us for a full evaluation. After reviewing your symptoms, we can use advanced imaging to take a closer look at your facet jo/ints.
If we identify facet joint OA, we can pull together a treatment plan that will help slow the progression of arthritis and preserve your ability to move freely.
To learn more about your treatment options for facet joint syndrome, please contact our office in Jonesboro, Georgia, to schedule an appointment.