Facet Joint Disorder

Do you have Facet Joint Disorder? Find out what your pain means—in a few painless clicks.

What is Facet Joint Disorder?

A vertebra is composed of three major components: 1) The vertebral body through which the spinal cord runs, 2) the intervertebral discs between each vertebra of the spine and 3) the facet joints which run along the posterior of the spine and act as an aid in bending and twisting the torso. The facet joints allow for a certain degree of bending and twisting without over-extending or painfully twisting the spine.

Like other joints in the body, the facet joints are covered with a sheath of protective cartilage that allows for fluid and safe movement of the spine. These protective covers can, over time, be broken down or damaged by any of a number of degenerative conditions. When this occurs, an individual may experience anywhere from minor twinges to excruciating discomfort in the back or even radiating pain into the arms or legs.

Common causes of facet joint disorder include:

  • Chronic Strain: The primary causes of facet joint disorder are the combined effects of time, age, and chronic twisting or bending of the back. This is especially true for individuals who are constantly using their spine to perform manual labor or heavy lifting. The individuals who are most affected often include nurses, athletes, and construction workers, for example.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis, especially Rheumatoid Arthritis, can cause thinning or disappearance of the spine’s protective cartilage, leading to facet joint pain.
  • Spondylolisthesis: This is a disorder that occurs when one vertebra slips out of alignment with another. This can occur through events such as accidents or the cumulative impact of chronic strain.
  • Obesity: Unnecessary weight on our skeletal structure can accelerate excessive wear and tear on our joints.

Concerned that you might be suffering from facet joint disorder? To learn more about minimally invasive treatment options for facet joint relief, contact our spine specialists at NYC Spine today!

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What are the Symptoms of Facet Joint Disorder?

Facet Joint Disorder (FJD) is primarily diagnosed by the distinctive symptoms of pain that emerge. The resulting discomfort can be dull and localized—or in more severe cases—the pain can be stabbing and radiate down into the limbs. Because the facet joints are also a passageway for our spinal nerves, these nerves can become pinched depending upon the extent of facet joint degeneration or the co-occurring development of bone spurs.

Symptoms of facet joint disease often include:

  • Pain: Pain will be experienced intermittently, occurring a few times a month or less. Tenderness will be a more consistent experience and may present with muscular tightness or inflexibility in the affected joints. Adjacent muscles may tighten in order to protect the spine from strain or to compensate for the damaged vertebra.
  • Direction of Movement: You will notice a difference in sensation depending upon which direction you are moving. Pain will tend to be more intense when bending backward, whereas bowing at the waist might mitigate the pain altogether. Sitting will most likely cause an increase in your pain as well.
  • Radiating Pain: Radiating pain from the damaged facet joint is generally only felt on the backside of the body. For example, radiating pain from a facet joint in the lumbar (lower) spine will shoot down the buttocks and into the back of each leg. This is significant to note as radiating pain from a herniated disc can be felt in either the front or backside of the legs. Radiating pain from a facet joint in the cervical (neck) portion of the spine will spread into shoulders, occasionally migrating down the arms and into the fingertips.

Are you noticing any of the symptoms listed above? Our Harvard-trained, board certified surgeon, Dr. Daveed Frazier, has earned over 20 years of experience in resolving facet joint pain!

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What are the Treatments for Facet Joint Disorder?

The first step in treating Facet Joint Disorder (FJD) is to diagnose your pain. As stated in previous sections, the symptoms of FJD are similar to those of other spine ailments, so proper diagnosis is key. Your doctor may utilize any of the following techniques to determine if you have FJD: a thorough examination of your medical history, a physical examination, X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or the use of facet joint injections.

If it is determined that you are suffering from FJD, minimally invasive treatments are always the first step in treatment. Your physician will work with you to determine if any of the follow treatments might be helpful for you: massage, acupuncture, exercise and stretching, pain patches, pain-relieving medications, lifestyle changes such as weight loss or smoking cessation, and/or physical therapy. Facet joint injections can also be used as a form of treatment that can relieve acute discomfort at the site of facet joint deterioration.

Surgery is not a common course of treatment for facet joint disorder; however, in extreme cases, this may be an option for you. For individuals who require surgical intervention, our Harvard-trained, board certified surgeon, Dr. Frazier, may recommend the following techniques:

  • Facet Fusion: This procedure will fuse one or more of the facet joints together, so that painful movement in the joints is halted. This will eliminate the pain and prevent further damage to your facet joints.
  • Nerve Ablation: In this procedure, the damaged nerves surrounding the facet joint will be removed through the use of an electrical current.

However, the interventions detailed above represent only a fraction of the innovative techniques that Dr. Frazier may suggest to eliminate your pain. Collaborating with Dr. Frazier one-on-one, you will work together as a team to identify the best treatments to eliminate your pain and optimize your recovery!

Am I a candidate for Facet Joint Disorder treatments?

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Dr. Frazier is a Harvard-trained, board certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He’s held an academic appointment at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York’s SUNY Downstate. Dr. Frazier is also a respected lecturer, accomplished researcher, published author on spine disorders and treatment, and a consultant for several international spine companies.

After completing his undergraduate education at Brown University, Dr. Frazier attended Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude. He completed a Harvard internship based at the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, MA, followed by a Harvard combined residency before becoming chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Education & Training

  • MD / Cum Laude

    Harvard Medical School

  • Chief Resident

    Mass. General Hospital

  • Lecturer

    Columbia University

  • Spinal Deformity Fellowship

    Doctor’s Hospital (Miami, FL)