Is Facet Joint Injury Permanent?

Facet joint syndrome is a generalized form of arthritis that affects both older and younger adults. It is usually caused by normal wear and tear, but injuries can make it worse. Once the facet joint is damaged, it can lead to a lasting or permanent disability. Facet joint syndrome is an arthritis-like condition of the spine that can cause major back and neck pain.

It is caused by degenerative changes in the joints between the bones of the spinal column. The cartilage inside the facet joint can break and swell, resulting in pain signals in nearby nerve endings. Medications, physical therapy, joint injections, nerve blocks, and nerve ablations may be used to control symptoms. In some cases, chronic symptoms may require surgery to fuse the joint.

Unfortunately, there is no way to “cure” facet joint syndrome with non-surgical treatments. However, most people can control their symptoms without surgery for many years. Any significant back pain that persists longer than 4 to 6 weeks should be evaluated carefully. An MRI may be performed to rule out lumbar disc disorder since disc injuries are more common, especially in younger age groups.

The physical exam may also suggest lumbar facet joint syndrome. Maneuvers that put pressure on the facet joint, such as pain when bending back and to one side, will suggest the diagnosis. An injection may be performed in the medial lumbar branch to see if there is a temporary decrease in pain. If the pain subsides after an injection in the medial branch, a safe diagnosis of lumbar facet joint syndrome can be made.

As the body weight load shifts toward the facet joint, the cartilage breaks down, the joint space narrows, and the bones rub together. This can cause lasting or permanent disability if the facet joint is damaged due to normal deterioration, injury, or repetitive trauma. Non-surgical treatments such as medications, physical therapy, joint injections, nerve blocks, and nerve ablations may provide temporary relief from symptoms caused by facet joint syndrome. Regular stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular exercise can delay degeneration and reduce tension in facet joints by improving overall back strength and condition and reducing body inflammation.

Facet joints are found in the spine and help maintain a normal range of motion. While facet joint arthritis cannot be reversed, there is evidence that exercise, lifestyle changes, and careful management of back pain can contribute to a better quality of life.

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