what is facet arthritis

What is Facet Arthritis?: Everything You Need to Know

What is facet arthritis? It is a disabling disease affecting the quality of people lives, yet it is relatively unknown.

Its symptoms include sporadic, sometimes severe and unpredictable pain in the neck or back.

It also causes a decrease in your mobility due to traveling pain anywhere from the neck to the upper leg.

Unique Facet Arthritis Indicators

It is easy to think arthritis will never affect your life, much less a type of arthritis which is so unique most people have never heard of it.

What is facet arthritis and the statistical impact on the population?

Facet arthritis afflicts the geriatric populations more than any other age group. Women are twice as likely to get it than men.

Many people will begin to suffer from sporadic and unpredictable pain. This pain can radiate from the neck down to the upper legs.

A facet arthritis diagnosis is prevalent in obese people and the condition plays a large factor in the people who have the disease.

Any accident, physical trauma or injury can trigger this type of arthritis or cause it to re-occur with more pain intensity.

A couple of other factors that can be indicators include malnutrition and a lack of physical exercise and activities.

Any joint can develop arthritis. However, when arthritis develops in the facet joint, this is facet arthropathy also known as facet arthritis.

There is not one symptom of facet arthropathy which would immediately make you run to your doctor. At least not in the beginning.

The progressive symptoms of facet arthritis are something else entirely. Unfortunately, there is no cure for facet arthritis cannot because once the facet joints are damaged they cannot heal.

Facet Arthritis To-Do List

The first thing one must do is get testing done to diagnose facet joint arthritis. A medical imaging test to locate where the disease is within the body is very helpful in diagnosing the condition.

Some of the imaging tests which are helpful to determine if you suffer from arthropathy include, but are not limited to:

  • MRI
  • X-Ray
  • CT Scan

The facet injection is also something which helps diagnose this condition. This test is sometimes called a medial branch block.

The medial branch block provides anesthetic which blocks the nerves when it senses facet joint pain. It is when you tell your doctor you have begun to feel better and are not having the same symptoms, the physician makes the official diagnosis of facet arthritis.

The Treatments for Facet Arthritis

There is no cure for facet arthritis, but that doesn’t mean you need to suffer or not seek treatment. There are many treatment options that will help manage and reduce your pain.

The treatments options range from prescription medication to physical therapy. But we have listed some specific treatment options below:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication helps the pain because it reduces inflammation at the affected joint.
  • Apply a heating pad or cooling pad on the inflamed area can help manage the pain.
  • Physical therapy is a great option to help you keep moving the inflamed facet arthritic area.
  • Radiofrequency ablation is also known as facet thermal ablation helps nerve blocking in the affected area.
  • Acupuncture has some success offering pain relief associated with facet joint arthritis.

Find the treatment option which works best for you. Don’t quit if the first one doesn’t work right away. It takes persistence with the end result being reducing the pain.

Surgery and Other Treatment Options

Surgery is a last resort for facet arthropathy, because of the risk to the spine. Lumbar fusion surgery is performed only if the pain is intolerable.

It is best if you try every medical and non-medical treatment before going down the surgical path of treatment.

But is a logical choice if the quality of your life diminishes due to constant and severe arthritic pain. We understand this type of decision is not made lightly.

It takes family and physician consensus, consultations, and agreement for this final resort to be an option.

There are other treatment options and some of them are unique. An important thing to remember is within the medical field treatment options grow every day.

A couple of unique treatment options have great success in reducing facet arthritis inflammation and pain. They are in the list below:

  • Joint corticosteroid injections shot into the affected joint reduces arthritic inflammation.
  • Minimally invasive lumbar fusion – a surgery which fuses bones of the spine together so there is no motion between them.

If the recommendation is surgery, minimally invasive surgeries are the best. This means the use of percutaneous techniques in surgeries because they have minimal impact.

They are performed with small incisions so the removal of bone is less. There is also less blood loss and less recovery time need after surgery.

What’s more, there are usually excellent surgical results due to the use of specialized spinal tools and instrumentation.

You Do Not Walk This Road Alone

Many people suffer from facet arthritis. 1 in 5 people suffers from various forms of arthritis.

Due to the high number of arthritis sufferers, there are peer-to-peer support groups available. There are also support groups run by the Arthritis Foundation and other non-profit agencies.

The support groups offer emotional support, activities aimed at helping those with any form of arthritis, and some offer financial assistance.

They are there for you so please reach out when you need those who understand the disease best.

What is Your Next Best Step?

We offer some of the most advanced medical and non-medical treatment options in facet arthritis.

Our commitment is to easing your pain and giving you back the quality of life you deserve. So what is facet arthritis? It is a condition our practice can help you with today.

We have the surgeons, the experience, and the best medical and non-medical treatment options to help you today.

Don’t wait to contact us until the pain has taken joy and life from your day-to-day existence. We want to help give you a future which is carefree and open so you can experience life once again.

Neck Stretch Exercises for Stiff Painful Neck.

Does your neck get stiff?  Do you ever feel like you need to “crack it”?  Do you get severe neck pain?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then Neck Stretching may be the answer for you.

Neck pain causes a viscous cycle of stiffness, weakness and pain.  For example you twist your neck and develop neck pain.  Every movement worsens the pain.  You respond by  not moving your neck or putting on a neck collar.  Unfortunately  this weakens your neck muscles and weak tight neck muscles hurt more.  You are making the pain worse.

Stretching is the best way to break the pain, stiffness and weakness cycle!  Neck stretching stretches the muscles, improves neck mobility and decreases pain.


I recommend a hot shower before stretching to relax and loosen the neck.  You need 5 to 10 minutes to properly stretch the neck.  You must flex neck forward and hold the neck in that position with your hand on the back of your head.  You must simultaneously relax your neck.   Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.  Repeat this exercise for the rest of the neck stretch positions.   After the whole set is complete repeat the set 2 more times.  You need to do exercise 3 times in total.


Flex head forward x 30 seconds

Extend head backwards x 30 seconds

Turn head right x 30 seconds

Turn head left x 30 seconds

Bend head right x 30 seconds

Bend head left x 30 seconds

Repeat whole sequence for a total of 3 times.

For more information please contact Executive Spine Surgery at 908-452-5612 or email at [email protected]

How long does it take for anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) surgery to fuse?

Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a surgical disk removal procedure through the front of the neck relieving pressure off the spinal cord and nerves.  After the neural elements are well decompressed and the endplates of the vertebrae are prepared a piece of bone is placed into the emptied disk space.   This bone may be from the patients body (usually the hip) or can be specially prepared from cadaveric bone.

The bone graft then must incorporate into the spinal vertebrae.   The bone from the upper and lower vertebrae slowly grow into the graft ultimately making one large “bone”.   This can be a slow process.  Fusion usually takes 6 to 12 months or more.   I wold not expect you to be fused in 3 months.  Initially the bone weakens and then slowly becomes stronger as the bone from the other vertebrae grow through it.  The healing is not complete until fusion is completed. I would recommend giving it more time.

Artificial disk replacement is a new option to cervical fusion.  The procedure is done in a similar manor to the anterior cervical discectomy and fusion.  The disk is removed and the endplates are prepared.  An artificial disk is then placed into the neck instead of the bone graft.  Even though artificial disks are relatively new medical technology there may be significant advantages including early return to activity since you do not have to wait for the bone to fuse and less wear and tear at the adjacent disks spaces which may lead to further spinal disease after a fusion.

Endoscopic cervical discectomy is another fusion sparing option for removal of cervical disks.  The spinal cord and nerve are decompressed, spinal motion is maintain and no metal disk is placed into the neck.

For more information please Schedule an Appointment.

Good Luck!

Is it bad to use a back brace?

Frequent use of a back brace may lead to weakening of your back muscles and the development of increased back pain. It is best to strengthen your core muscles to stabilize your back to decrease back pain.  I recommend starting Yoga.  Yoga is a great exercise to strengthen your abdomen and back, improve flexibility and loose weight!  For more information please contact Executive Spine Surgery.  Good Luck!

How can I ease upper back pain?

There are many causes of upper back pain.  The pain may originate from your bones, disks, muscles, joints, nerves and spinal cord, neck, shoulders, lungs and heart.  Most causes of upper back pain I see is from spine fractures, pulled muscles or arthritis.  Initially you may be treated with rest, anti-inflammatory medicine, muscle relaxant and  sometimes pain medicine. If the pain is severe your doctor may take you out of work.  If the pain does not improve or you have neurological problems (weakness, numbness, etc) then you would need a full workup which may include X-rays, MRI and sometimes blood tests.   Further treatment would depends on what is found.

Click Read More for information on treatment options.  Please contact Executive Spine Surgery for more information.  Good Luck!

I had a cervical fusion done at C4-C7 4 years ago, but I am still in pain. Do I need it redone?

This is difficult question without seeing you and your films.  Most cervical fusions heal 1 year after surgery.  If the X-rays and/or CT scan showed healed fusion of C4-C7 (that is C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7) revision will unlikely help your neck pain.  Your neck pain maybe from breakdown of another level of your spine such as C3-4 or C7-T1.  This is called adjacent level disease.  After fusion surgery, the disks beside the fusion must take up the extra movement lost by the fused levels.  This may increase  “wear and tear” on these disks, increasing the chance of developing future problems.  It is possible one of your other disks have now become painful.  You may also have neck pain from stiff weak neck muscles.  You may benefit from daily neck stretches.

Please see the following blog posting for instructions on neck stretches.   Please contact Executive Spine Surgery to schedule an appointment.  Good Luck!

I smashed my shoulder into the pool wall 5 days ago and now I can’t move my neck or shoulder without a lot of pain.

I smashed my shoulder into the pool wall 5 days ago and now I can’t move my neck or shoulder without a lot of pain.

You probably pulled a muscle, but other possibilities included injury to your facet joints or disk.  If you think you broke your neck or have any arm or leg pain, numbness, weakness, clumsiness or bowel and bladder problems you should see your doctor right away.  If not I would recommend rest, anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen or naproxen (if fine with your doctor) and neck stretching.

Neck Stretch Routine: Take a hot shower and heat and loosen your neck:

1. Bend neck forward and hold in position with arm stretching neck 30 seconds

2. Bend neck backwards 30 seconds

3. Bend neck right 30 seconds

4. Bend neck left 30 seconds

5. Turn neck right 30 seconds

6. Turn left 30 seconds

Complete 3 sets of stretching routine. Good Luck!

If pain persists or you develop any arm or leg pain, numbness, weakness, clumsiness or bowel and bladder problems you should see your doctor right away.  If this fails to help you may benefit formal physical therapy and consultation with spine surgeon.   For more information please contact Executive Spine Surgery.  Good Luck!

Does the donor bone graft in bone transplants come from living donors?

There are two types of bone graft commonly used autograft and allograft.  Autograft is taken from the patient during surgery, this is usually from iliac crest or bone that is removed the spine.  This is the best graft material but unfortunately can lead to new pain, deformity or complications.  Allograft is bone taken from bone bank from deceased donor.   This is almost as good as your own bone and saves you second surgical site. Recently bone substitutes made up of calcium have become available and may replace bone in the future.  For more information please contact Executive Spine Surgery today.  Good luck!

Should I get a massage after a car accident?

Yes as long as spinal injury has been ruled out by your doctor.   Most car accidents involve jolting whiplash injuries to the spine.  These injuries respond well to massage, heat, stretching, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medicine.  Injuries to the bones, ligaments, disks, spinal cord and nerves may require bracing or surgery.  I would recommend going to the emergency room after a car accident.  For more information please contact Executive Spine Surgery.  Good Luck!

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