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What Is Facet Joint Disease?
Facet joint disease affects the neck and lower back. It can cause excessive pain and disability for people. It’s similar to a herniated disk but can also mask as an infection, fracture, or a muscle tear. It’s important to have a physician diagnose this problem so it can be treated properly.
Facet joints are present within your spine. These are what makes your back so flexible. They allow you to bend and twist in all directions. The nerves exit the spinal cord through these joints, which lead to other parts of the body. Healthy facet joints have cartilage, which also helps your vertebrae to move smoothly against each other without grinding.
Common symptoms of facet joint problems can include pain which can be intermittent and is usually unpredictable. Loss of flexibility in the muscles near the spine may occur. This is called guarding and it can also involve a persistent tenderness in one spot.
If a patient feels more pain when leaning backward than forward, it can be an indication of facet joint disease, rather than some other type of disease. If pain is being experienced in the lower back, the pain can often radiate down into the buttocks and the backs of the upper legs. Pain is usually not felt in the front of the legs, near the knees or feet. If there is pain in these regions, it might be an indication of a herniated disk or some other type of problem.
For cervical (neck) issues, there might be local pain, or pain that radiates into the shoulders or upper back. Pain is usually not radiating down the front of the body, down the arm, or down the fingers. Again, those issues indicate more of a problem with a herniated disk.
Facet joint problems can be tricky to diagnose, particularly if the pain comes and goes. Often x-rays will need to be examined. This usually shows any issues with abnormal facet changes. A CT scan can be more effective in obtaining information about not only the facet joints but the entire spinal segment structure too. In some instances, MRI scans may also be ordered, but generally only if other issues are suspected.
It’s important to have a physician diagnose facet joint disease so the proper treatment plan can be created. This should also be done sooner rather than later, so further damage can be minimized.
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