Facet joint arthritis affects the facet joints, which are joints that connect the vertebrae or the back bone. These joints guide and control the movement of the body.
Under normal conditions, these joints glide smoothly over each other, making movement easy and comfortable.
However, in patients who suffer from arthritis in the facet joints, pain and inflammation lead to restricted movement.
Doctors begin diagnosis with physical examination and complete patient history. This will include questions regarding how the pain is affecting you and the nature of the pain.
Physical examination helps the doctor assess the condition of the muscles and strength and quickness of your reflexes. This is followed by more detailed examinations through X-rays, MRI and CT scans.
Some doctors may even use a diagnostic injection to identify the source of pain. Once facet joint arthritis is confirmed, treatment options are discussed.
Mild cases of facet joint arthritis are treated non-surgically.
The first phase of the treatment is generally directed towards reducing pain. Patients may be advised to take a short period of rest to bring down pain and inflammation.
Doctors may also prescribe NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or muscle relaxants to help ease the pain.
This is important because pain can lead to increased inflammation just as inflammation can cause more pain.
In mid to moderate cases, a physiotherapist may be called in to provide relief. Gentle traction helps strengthen the back and relieves stress.
Along with this, the physiotherapist may also recommend strengthening and stretching exercises for the back.
Spinal manipulation is another treatment method adopted for pain relief. Here, tissues that surround the joints are stretched to ease stress. However, relief is not long term.
In more severe cases, patients may be administered injections for pain relief. The injection may contain an anesthetic or a steroid.
These injections provide short term relief from pain. However, long term use of steroid injections may have undesirable side effects.
Doctors generally recommend that patients resume physiotherapy and exercises after these injections have brought pain under control.
Although surgical intervention is rare in patients with these conditions, in chronic cases, surgery may be needed to relieve chronic pain.
Two of the most popular surgical methods include facet rhizotomy and posterior lumbar fusion.
A number of new treatment methods like radiofrequency neurolysis
procedures are also being tried to help patients with this form of
arthritis. But, these are still in the nascent stages.