Facet joints are small joints that link the spinal bones. And like all other joints in the human body, they can be affected by arthritis at one time or another. Facet joint arthritis is more likely to affect the lower back area. In fact, it’s estimated anywhere from 40 to 85 percent of people in the United States will have issues with lumbar facet arthritis at some point. As with other forms of arthritis, symptoms can range from mild to debilitating. While no type of arthritis is reversible, there are some nonsurgical ways lumbar facet arthritis can be managed in a way that keeps it from getting worse and eventually requiring procedures such as alternatives to spinal fusion surgery. Santa Monica patients should seek treatment as soon as possible to minimize their risk of needing surgery.
If you habitually slouch or excessively lean forward or to one side or the other, your lower back could take the brunt of the added stress. When you have lumbar facet joint arthritis, poor posture can trigger or worsen symptoms fairly easily. Minimize arthritis-related issues that could affect your lower back’s facet joints by:
• Doing regular self-posture checks
• Watching how you sit, stand, and sleep
• Sitting fully back in a supportive chair
You probably won’t be able to run vigorously or do an intense gym workout safely with lumbar facet arthritis. What you can do is strengthen the muscles that support your lower back with gentler forms of exercise, such as swimming, walking, yoga, or using an elliptical machine.
When you work with a physical therapist, you’ll learn how to strengthen your lower back in a way that’s safe and effective. A personalized physical therapy plan is often comprehensive, with a focus is on both short-term relief and long-term solutions. For instance, you may be able to effectively keep lumbar facet arthritis symptoms in check with a physical therapy plan that includes:
• Targeted exercises
• Lifestyle adjustment recommendations
• Tips for how to safely exercise and stretch on your own
Arthritis is an inflammatory condition, so it irritates soft tissues in a way that affects nearby nerves. This is why it’s common for NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, to be recommended or prescribed to manage lumbar facet arthritis pain. NSAIDs aren’t meant to be a long-term solution or standalone treatment. That said, such medications can ease your discomfort enough so you can benefit from more active treatments.
Another way to administer medication that fights inflammation in a more direct way is with facet joint injections. These are injections that combine a local anesthetic with an anti-inflammatory medication. As is the case with NSAIDs, therapeutic injections are only a temporary solution. Still, you may be able to participate more in your recommended physical therapy routine without distracting discomfort thanks to the relief provided by the injections.
Before you explore your options with any of the nonsurgical treatments for lumbar facet arthritis mentioned here, talk to your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon. This will enable you to get specific advice about what’s going on with your lower back and the joints that support it.
If you’re experiencing signs or symptoms that may indicate lumbar facet arthritis, The Spine Institute is the place to go for diagnosis and treatment. Our industry-leading physicians specialize in every aspect of spinal health, so call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.