Facet Joint Arthritis

Spinal Anatomy

The human spine is made up of 24 spinal bones, called vertebrae. Vertebrae are stacked on top of one another to create the spinal column. The spinal column gives the body its form. It is the body's main upright support.

Between the vertebrae of each spinal segment are two facet joints. The facet joints are located on the back of the spinal column, with one on each side. A facet joint is made of small, bony knobs that line up along the back of the spine.

The surfaces of the facet joints are covered by articular cartilage. Articular cartilage is a smooth, rubbery material that covers the ends of most joints. It allows the bone ends to move against each other smoothly, without friction.

Causes of Facet Joint Arthritis

Normally, the facet joints fit together snugly and glide smoothly, without pressure. If pressure builds where the joint meets, the cartilage on the joint surfaces can wear off. Each segment in the spine has three main points of movement, the intervertebral disc and the two facet joints. Injury or problems in any one of these structures affects the other two.As a disc thins with aging and from daily wear and tear, the space between two spinal vertebrae shrinks. This causes the facet joints to press together and wears down the cartilage on the joint surfaces.

Symptoms

Pain from facet joint arthritis is usually worse after resting or sleeping. Also, bending the trunk sideways or backward usually produces pain on the same side as the arthritic facet joint. This increases pressure on the facet joints and can cause pain.

Pain may be felt in the center of the low back and can spread into one or both buttocks. Sometimes the pain spreads into the thighs, but it rarely goes below the knee. Numbness and tingling, the symptoms of nerve compression, are usually not felt because facet joint arthritis generally causes only mechanical pain. Mechanical pain comes from abnormal movement in the spine. However, symptoms of nerve compression can sometimes occur at the same time as the facet joint pain. The arthritis can cause bone spurs at the edges of the facet joint. These bone spurs may form in the operung where the nerve root leaves the spinal canal. If the bone spurs rub against the nerve root, the nerve can become inflamed and irritated. This nerve irritation can cause symptoms where the nerve travels. These symptoms may include numbness, tingling, slowed reflexes, and muscle weakness.

Treatment

Physical Therapy Care

  • Strengthening
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Stretching
  • Manual therapy
  • Modalities - ice, heat , etc