What is Facet Arthrosis?

Back X-ray
Spine X-ray

There are many spinal conditions that occur due to aging and facet arthrosis is one of them. Facet arthrosis occurs as the joints located in the spine start to deteriorate and the cartilage in these joints starts to wear away. The cartilage is a very important factor in keeping the back and spine mobile. Cartilage is a type of connective tissue that keeps the bones in a joint from rubbing together; it covers the facet joints and provides protection by intercepting friction or strain. As the body ages the cartilage can wear away and allow the bones in the joint to come into contact with each other. This can lead to pain, stiffness or bone spurs in many individuals.

How does a physician diagnose facet arthrosis?

When a physician or orthopedic doctor suspects facet arthrosis, they will usually order an x-ray of the area. In most cases, this will reveal any abnormal facets. In order to get a more thorough look, the physician may also order a CT scan. This will offer the physician or spine specialist a better look of the spinal structures. In most instances, an MRI will not be required in order to diagnose the spinal condition but when looking for various causes of back pain it may be useful.

When should I consult a physician?

Any time an individual has unexplained back pain and there is any reason at all to suspect facet arthritis, then it is advisable to speak with a physician. Because of the sporadic nature of facet arthrosis, it can be a little easier to diagnose than other spinal conditions. It may be more practical to begin with a visit to a primary care physician who can explore the various risk factors that can help them determine the source of the symptoms. Many times they will recommend a spinal specialist or a rheumatologist who is more familiar with the various types of diseases that can distress the joints. Sometimes they will recommend an orthopedist because musculoskeletal conditions are their specialty.

What are the most common symptoms of facet arthrosis?

The facet joints are located in the spine and are placed so that they connect vertebrae. Each facet joint is surrounded by a synovial membrane and cartilage. In order to keep the spinal joints mobile, the synovial membrane will secrete fluid which helps to keep them lubricated. When cartilage weakens, it complicates and inhibits this mobility. Pain can be excruciating as the bone grinds against bone.

Many of those who experience this type of lower back pain say that the pain radiates down from the spinal area into the buttocks and upper leg. It is not typical for pain associated with facet arthrosis to affect the frontal portions of the leg or be felt below the knee. When back pain originates due to a herniated disc the entire leg is affected; this is one way the two conditions are distinguished. When facet arthrosis is located in the cervical region the pain may also radiate throughout the shoulder and upper back. But once again the pain does not usually extend past the elbow. Many times it is more painful when leaning backward rather than bending forward and most patients who are diagnosed with facet arthrosis experience tenderness in the spinal joints. They also typically lose some of the flexibility of the spine. The pain is not necessarily constant, but can be intermittent, occurring a few times a month or year. Episodes are largely unpredictable and sporadic. There is no way to be able to predetermine when an episode may occur or how intense it may be.

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