What is Facet Arthropathy?
The facet joints are the joints which are found behind the spine to counterbalance the intervertebral discs found between the vertebrae of the spine. These are ultimately essential for restricting the movements of the spine for the vertebrae to maintain proper alignment. Over time, the natural aging process can cause the facet joints to deteriorate or wear down. Facet joint arthritis can also gradually develop over time, as it may in any other joint. This is referred to as arthropathy.
What are the Symptoms of Facet Arthropathy?
Individuals with facet arthropathy will generally experience low back pain which can often worsen with standing, twisting, or bending backward. The painful symptoms associated with facet joint arthropathy occur in one specific region of the spine. The pain and discomfort are commonly described as a dull ache on one or both sides of the lower back or lumbar spine. However, unlike the well-known signs and symptoms of sciatica, caused by the compression or impingement of the sciatic nerve in the lower back, facet arthropathy signs and symptoms generally don’t radiate down the buttocks or into the legs.
However, the facet joint, in the same way as any other joint which has arthritis, can become enlarged and add pressure on nerve roots, causing pain and discomfort to radiate down the lower extremities. Facet arthropathy symptoms are generally relieved by bending forward. Bending your body forward into a spinal flexion position can help reduce painful symptoms.
What Causes Facet Arthropathy?
The natural aging process is frequently considered to be one of the most common indirect sources of facet arthropathy. Other health issues which can affect the facet joints and ultimately cause facet arthropathy include:
- Osteoarthritis: Degeneration of joint cartilage and underlying bone, generally during middle age
- Facet joint degeneration: Wear and tear on the facet joint brought on over time due to aging
- Facet joint injury: Trauma to the facet joints caused by an impact, such as a fall or automobile accident
- Synovial cyst: A fluid-filled sac which develops in the spine, generally as a result of aging
How is Facet Arthropathy Diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing chronic low back pain, make an appointment with a healthcare professional to determine a diagnosis and follow-up with the proper treatment. By performing a physical evaluation, your healthcare professional will then be able to analyze the source of your painful symptoms. The doctor will also ask you questions regarding your medical history and your symptoms as well as order several of the following tests to help diagnose facet arthropathy, including:
- CT scan or MRI scan: These imaging tests can show evidence of facet joint degeneration, even mild to moderate cases.
- Bone scan: This test shows bone density to demonstrate any source of inflammation on the spine.
- Anti-inflammatory steroid injection: An injection into your facet joint can determine facet arthropathy.
- X-rays: These will help the healthcare professional evaluate the overall health and wellness of your spine.
Can Facet Arthropathy Cause Other Health Issues?
Facet arthropathy may cause bone spurs, tiny bone outgrowths. Bone spurs can decrease the distance available between nerve roots, causing a health issue known as spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis may cause pain, weakness, and numbness on the buttocks, hips, and thighs. It’s frequently associated with other health issues which could lead to facet arthropathy.
Arthritis caused by a variety of other health issues, such as degenerative disc disease, can occur due to the human body’s natural aging process, causing the discs between the vertebrae of the spine to lose their flexibility, elasticity, and capacity to absorb shock from walking and other physical activities. This may ultimately cause painful symptoms to develop.
How is Facet Arthropathy Treated?
There are numerous treatment approaches to help treat facet arthropathy symptoms. Treatments include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs and/or medications
- Avoidance of movements which cause pain and discomfort, such as repetitive twisting or lifting
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Epidural steroid injections
- Facet joint ablation or the destruction of the facet nerves with electrical shocks
- Spinal surgery when there is nerve-root compression
Differential Diagnosis of Hip Pain and Discomfort
Facet joint arthropathy is a well-known health issue which can commonly occur due to the human body’s natural aging process, however, injury or underlying conditions may also cause facet joint arthropathy. Although facet joint arthropathy may cause pain, discomfort, and numbness in the lower back, the symptoms are different from sciatica in which these don’t radiate down the buttocks, legs, and/or feet. Diagnosis is essential for facet joint arthropathy to follow-up with treatment. – Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T. Insight
The purpose of the article was to discuss degenerative disc disease and sciatica. Degenerative disc disease is often associated with pain, tingling sensations, and numbness, similar to the symptoms of sciatica. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal and nervous health issues as well as functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. To further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez
Additional Topic Discussion: Severe Sciatica
Back pain is one of the most prevalent causes of disability and missed days at work worldwide. Back pain attributes to the second most common reason for doctor office visits, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. Approximately 80 percent of the population will experience back pain at least once throughout their life. Your spine is a complex structure made up of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles, among other soft tissues. Injuries and/or aggravated conditions, such as herniated discs, can eventually lead to symptoms of sciatica, or sciatic nerve pain. Sports injuries or automobile accident injuries are often the most frequent cause of painful symptoms, however, sometimes the simplest of movements can have these results. Fortunately, alternative treatment options, such as chiropractic care, can help ease sciatic nerve pain, or sciatica, through the utilization of spinal adjustments and manual manipulations, ultimately improving pain relief.
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