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10 months ago
Facet joint arthritis: understanding the causes and symptoms

Arthritis can be defined as joint pain. It commonly occurs when the joints are stiff i.e. the tissues around the joints expand causing inflammation which leads to pain. The joint structures that connect two bones and allow agility between them are referred to as facet joints. These are synovial joint structures that provide stability to the spine. Facet arthritis is mostly caused by structural degeneration of one or more vertebrae that eventually generates a large amount of acute pain. There will be some amount of discomfort because of a loss in the spinal muscle flexibility. The pain occurs in an episodic manner and can fatigue the muscle. Dr (Prof.) Amite Pankaj Aggarwal, Additional Director, Joint Replacement, Arthroscopy and Orthopedics, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi opines that the pain can be extremely debilitating and tiresome to go through these episodes. Undergoing a CT scan is effective in determining the extent of the problem.

Understanding mild facets arthritis: Facet joints are located in the posterior portion of the spine. When there is a loss of cartilage and degeneration of the vertebrae begins it leads to discomfort, difficulty in movement and pain as the joints are in friction with each other. This is mild at first and only intensifies with time and age. Once intensified, it tends to result in a lot of trouble in movement and causes stiffness.

Where is the facet joint and why does it hurt? The facet joints are located at the back they tend to become stiff and inflamed if there is friction between the two joints. This usually happens due to a loss of the cartilage between the two joints. A facet joint can be described as two bony surfaces opposite to each other, having a cartilage in between them with a capsule around it that produces fluid.

When does facet joint pain become chronic? The pain becomes chronic when there is structural degradation of one or more vertebrae and there is a pressure overload on the joints.

Causes of facet joint pain: When pressure is built between the facet joints it leads to friction which causes pain. Daily wear and tear along with ageing are responsible for the space between the two vertebrae to shrink. If pressure builds where the joint meets, the cartilage on the joint surfaces wears off or erodes. Fractures, torn ligaments, back injuries and disc problems affect the facet joints and cause injury to the invertebrate disc which holds the two joints together.

Symptoms of facet joint pain:
- Episodes of acute joint pain which occur intermittently.
- Loss of spinal muscle flexibility.
- Continuous point tenderness in the area of the inflamed facet.
- Discomfort while stretching the back.
- In the morning, the facet joints are most stiff and painful. They tend to become lubricated as the back is stretched and the body warms up. However, stress and a sedentary lifestyle can further aggravate the pain.

Image source: Shutterstock

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