The back and spine are key to maintaining the body’s full range of motion and mobility. They are the body’s central support system. The near constant use of the back and spine are one of the reasons why most Americans will experience back pain at some point in their life.
The vertebral column, also known as your spine, is made up of muscles, bones, tendons and other tissues.
Your vertebrae are the ring-shaped bones that stack up to make the spinal canal. There are 33 vertebrae in the spine, and most of them can move slightly thanks to facet joints. There are two of these tiny joints in each “spinal motion segment,” and they allow the body to twist and turn.
Facet joints are angular bones with a slippery tissue (cartilage) that connect and cushion the joints. The cartilage in the facet joints allow the vertebra to move without grinding against each other. Cartilage is vital for maintaining a full and pain-free range of motion within the vertebra.
The cartilage in the facet joints can be worn down and become inflamed by degenerative changes in the spine. When this happens, bone may start to rub against bone or pinch nearby nerves, sending pain signals to the brain. The widening of the gap between facet joints due to the loss of cartilage is called facet joint hypertrophy.
Facet Joint Hypertrophy can make movement painful and should be treated professionally by orthopedists or back pain specialists.
What Is Facet Joint Hypertrophy
Facet joint hypertrophy is most common in people between 40 and 70 years of age. People who develop facet joint hypertrophy are often already prone to arthritis or have a history of spinal injury.
Hypertrophy is a medical term used to denote an increase in the size of an organ or tissue. When the cartilage in the facet joint becomes worn down due to excessive stress on the joint, it can result in a gap between joints where the bones can rub up against each other.
There may be correlation between the location of the joint and the amount of damage it has suffered. The extent of the damage generally corresponds with the severity of the symptoms experienced by the patient.
How Serious Is Facet Joint Hypertrophy
The severity of facet joint hypertrophy can vary depending on a few factors. If left untreated, even mild cases can eventually result in several unpleasant complications, including spinal stenosis.
Spinal stenosis is a condition where the spinal canal narrows and places more pressure on nerves and the spinal canal. Its symptoms include pain and muscle weakness.
Facet joint hypertrophy is not life threatening but can have a negative impact on quality of life and your ability to work or perform daily activities. Facet joints are important in movement and damage can compromise your ability to move and function. In more severe cases of facet joint hypertrophy, movement of the affected spinal segment may become impossible.
It can also result in weakness in the hips, arms, shoulders, knees, ankles and other parts of the body.
How to Treat Facet Joint Hypertrophy
There are several options to treat facet joint hypertrophy, ranging from physical therapy to radiofrequency rhizotomy.
Radiofrequency rhizotomy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that is recommended when more conservative methods of treatment have been ineffective at dealing with pain from irritated or damaged nerves.
Physical therapy is usually the first option for facet joint hypertrophy treatment because it is less invasive and has the potential to prevent the worsening of symptoms or additional damage to other joints.
In some cases, a physician might recommend spinal fusion. This procedure is considered minimally invasive as it involves only a small incision and uses a needle to graft together the facet joint bones.
Fusing a spinal motion segment will permanently reduce your range of motion and should only be considered as a last resort.
There is a third option: a lumbar laminectomy. During this procedure, the posterior portion of the vertebra may be removed to create more space and eliminate the compression of the spinal cord or pinched spinal nerves.
Do You Require a Surgical Procedure to Address Facet Joint Problems?
AllSpine Laser and Surgery Center has a team of highly trained spine surgeons and pain management specialists who can help diagnose and treat your spinal injury. If you are suffering from facet joint hypertrophy and are seeking treatment, contact one of our locations by calling 770-997-0600.
You can also learn more about facet joint hypertrophy and treatment options on our website.