What is facet joint osteoarthritis?
The joints in the spine are called facet joints. Spinal osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that causes the spinal facet joints to become painful and stiff.
The severity of facet joint osteoarthritis symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, and between different affected joints. For some people, the symptoms may be mild and may come and go, whereas others can experience more continuous and severe problems.
How do we treat facet joint osteoarthritis?
Facet joint osteoarthritis is a long-term condition which cannot be cured, but it doesn't necessarily get any worse over time and it can sometimes gradually improve. A number of treatments are available to reduce the symptoms:
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints in which the protective cartilage that lines the joint surfaces becomes worn. Any joint in the body can be affected by osteoarthritis, but it commonly affects the facet joint in the spine. It usually affects over 50s and is more common in women.
Facet joint osteoarthritis is most common in the neck and the lower back. Sometimes it can cause pressure on spinal nerves which can cause weakness and pain in the arms or legs.
Facet joint osteoarthritis happens as people get older, but younger people may get it if there is injury to a joint.
It is more widespread among people who are overweight. It also occurs more frequently in people whose jobs or hobbies put repetitive stress on certain joints.
Osteoarthritis of the spinal facet joints causes stiffness and pain in the neck or back, which can radiate to other parts of the body if the spinal nerves are involved. It may also cause weakness or numbness in the legs or arms.
Some people experience little interference with their daily activities. Others become quite severely disabled.
In addition to its physical effects, osteoarthritis may also lead to social and emotional problems. For instance, a person with osteoarthritis that interferes with daily activities and job performance may get depressed.
There is no single test to confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis. Dr Allfree will take a medical history and will perform a physical examination of your spine to see if you have pain or tenderness. If there is radiation of pain he will also check for any evidence of spinal nerve root involvement, such as weakness, muscle wasting or numbness.
Dr Allfree may recommend certain tests to aid in the diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the spine. These tests include:
Spinal osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be eased. The goal is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Treatment may include advice about weight management.
Treatment may also include any or all of the following:
Most cases of spinal osteoarthritis can be treated without surgery, but sometimes surgery is used. Spinal osteoarthritis is one of the causes of spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spine. In cases where bladder and bowel function is impaired, the nervous system is damaged or walking becomes very difficult, surgery may be recommended.