Located along each level of the rear side of the spine, facet joints are small structures that support and stabilize the backbone and keep it flexible. As is the case with other parts of the spine, facet joints can be affected by stress, trauma, and natural wear. This type of degeneration can break down cushioning that reduces friction between the bony parts of facet joints. When this happens, it’s referred to as facet joint hypertrophy. Here’s what you need to know about this condition and how it’s treated.
As bony parts of the spinal joints rub together, the affected area can become inflamed. This inflammation can also stimulate new bone growth, which can result in bony overgrowths called bone spurs. In turn, the affected facet joint may become larger than it’s supposed to be. An enlarged facet joint can then affect nearby structures where spine-related nerves pass through. If the bone overgrowth irritates or compresses spinal nerves, you may notice symptoms that include:
• Discomfort within the affected area
• Shooting or radiating pain
• Numbness and/or weakness in nearby extremities
• Reduced range of motion in the spine
The same type of natural degeneration that can affect the spine’s discs can also affect facet joints, so it’s not an entirely preventable problem. If you’ve already been diagnosed with facet joint hypertrophy, treatment will depend on your level of discomfort and how your spine is affected. In the early stages of the condition, treatment usually involves physical therapy. Initial treatment efforts may also include:
• Targeted exercise routines
• Anti-inflammatory drugs
• Steroid injections directly into the facet joints
Should conservative treatments fail to provide sufficient relief, surgery may be recommended. Procedures typically focus on relieving nerve pressure. This is sometimes done by removing parts of the spinal structures that are irritating or impeding nerves. Another option is a procedure called a rhizotomy, which is done by burning part of the affected spinal nerve roots.
There are also steps you can take to either reduce your risk of developing facet joint hypertrophy or slow its progression. For starters, paying more attention to your posture can minimize the type of stress that can affect facet joints over time. You may also benefit from the following preventative efforts:
• Enjoying a healthy, balanced diet
• Drinking more water to increase the flow of nutrients to various parts of the spine
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Quitting smoking if you’re currently a smoker
• Getting regular exercise, which may include daily walking, yoga, gentle stretching, or water-based forms of physical activity
• Focusing on core-strengthening exercises that target the core muscles that support your spine
Facet joint hypertrophy or degeneration is like arthritis in that damage that’s already done isn’t reversible. But what you can do is make an effort to prevent further wear and stress on your spinal joints. Also, report any new or unusual spine-related discomfort to your doctor or Los Angeles spine surgeon to receive an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.
With early diagnosis, facet joint hypertrophy can often be managed with conservative treatment methods. If you suspect you may have this condition, don’t wait until your pain is severe—see a spine specialist as soon as possible. When they need the highest-quality spine treatments, from disc replacement to spinal fusion surgery, Los Angeles patients can rely on the unmatched expertise of the industry-leading spinal health experts at The Spine Institute. Call one of our friendly staff today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.