Bad Mattress or Bad Back? Facet Arthritis Symptoms
Do I Have to Get Out of Bed?
Can’t stand up straight without wincing in pain? Neck so stiff you can barely move it? Is twisting to get in or out of the car an awkward dance of “ow?”
Neck and back pain can make your life miserable. It might just be that you have a muscle spasm or ligament strain, but persistent neck or back pain could be caused by a more serious condition, such as arthritis of the facet joints.
When you hear “joints,” you might think of your knee, your elbow, your jaw, and/or your hip. But your spine contains many joints as well. The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae, and the joints between each of the vertebrae are called facets. Facet joints provide stability, support, and mobility to the spine. As in any joint, cartilage between the bones helps the facet joints move appropriately. In the facet joints, discs of cartilage separate the vertebrae.
With injury or age, cartilage can break down. The cartilage in the facet joints wears away over time, becoming thinner and less supportive. Discs can slip or bone spurs can grow as the bone attempts to adjust to less support from the cartilage. Inflammation can occur as osteoarthritis develops in the facet joints. Pain, stiffness, and even pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord can result from degeneration of the facet joints.
There are many names given to this pattern of breakdown, including:
- facet arthritis
- facet disease
- facet hypertrophy
- facet joint syndrome
- degenerative facet joints
Vertebrae are usually separated into several groupings. Cervical vertebrae are the neck vertebrae. Thoracic vertebrae make up the midback, and lumbar vertebrae make up the lower back. The facet joints of the cervical spine can develop cervical spondylosis, which is arthritis of the neck joints. More than 85 percent of people over age 60 have some degree of this condition.
Genetics, smoking, a job with repetitive neck motions, and neck injuries can all contribute to the development of cervical facet arthritis.
Pain in the Neck
Arthritis and degeneration of the facet joints causes movement of cartilage discs and the development of bone spurs. All this results in a host of problems that cause painful symptoms. If the cervical facet joints are affected, the following symptoms can result:
- neck pain and stiffness, often worse with activity
- grinding sound with movement of the neck
- muscle spasms in neck and shoulders
Lower Back Blues
Low back pain is a very common problem with many potential causes. Degeneration of the facet joints can lead to a spiral of problems that cause pain, weakness, and other serious symptoms. As we age and the cartilage between our joints loses water and volume, more pressure is put on each facet joint. In the lumbar spine (the lower back), this can result in arthritis of the lumbar facet joints.
To make up for the lost cartilage, new bone may begin to grow. This causes bone spurs that can pinch nerves. Lumbar facet arthritis can cause pain and stiffness in the back. If you have this, you may find yourself inclined to lean forward often, as this creates more space between the joints and removes pressure on pinched nerves.
Facet Nerve Pinch
Nerves in the spinal cord or the nerve roots may become pinched as a result of the joint damage. The spinal canal can also become smaller, leaving less room for nerves to pass through the spinal column. Pressure on nerves can result in more profound symptoms, including:
- numbness and weakness in arms, hands, and fingers (cervical facet joints)
- trouble walking, loss of balance, or weakness in hands or legs (cervical, thoracic, or lumbar joints)
- burning pain, tingling, or numbness in buttocks or legs, also called sciatica (lumbar facet joints)
See Your Doctor
Neck and back pain can be debilitating, but these conditions can be treated with medications, physical therapy, steroid injections, and sometimes surgery. It is important to see your doctor to determine the cause of your pain, stiffness or weakness. X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other tests may be necessary to make sure that other serious conditions are not causing your pain. Osteoporosis, bulging or ruptured discs, skeletal irregularities, tumors, and kidney problems may also be culprits and should be ruled out.
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