Facet injuries are painful, lingering issues due to damage of one or more facet joints along the spine. They are difficult to spot on a scan and sometimes a sufferer’s pain is ignored either because the injury does not show up or they are younger.
This can leave some injured victims who try to get medical help feeling like “it’s all in their head” even though the pain is very much real. Getting the correct diagnosis, therefore, is vital to quickly treat and alleviate facet joint pain.
Facet Joint Anatomy
The spine is made up of many vertebral segments. Each bone segment is comprised of a large disc and two facet joints protruding out to either side. This creates a tripod effect as each vertebra is stacked on top of one another. Discs cushion the main segment while facet joints connect the exterior segments. This allows the spine to stretch and bend.
How Facet Joints Can Be Damaged
Also known as facet joint syndrome or facet arthropathy, the cartilage protecting the joint breaks down and becomes inflamed. Pain signals triggered by nearby nerve-endings can cause significant back and neck discomfort.
Such injuries can be caused by:
- Bending backward
- Twisting or jerking sideways
- Repetitive movements
- Car accident
- Sports injury
- Heavy lifting
- Cartilage degeneration
Facet Joint Injury Symptoms
An injury to a facet joint can place uneven pressure along the spine. This accelerates the wear and tear of the joint, causing the smooth, flexible cartilage caps to become rough and irritated.
Symptoms of a facet injury and degeneration include:
- Chronic or reoccurring pain
- Muscle stiffness and spasms
- A dull ache in the low back and buttocks or shoulders and back of the head
- Arm or leg pain
- Ringing in ears
- Pain in the bottom, hips, groin or thighs
- Discomfort leaning backward
Cervical facet joint pain is typically felt in the region at the base of the head, neck, upper back, shoulders, and mid-back. Lumbar facet syndrome is quite common since the lower back often bears the brunt of motion and weight of the upper body. It all depends on where the facet injury occurs.
A doctor who specializes in diagnosing spinal conditions should examine someone who may be suffering from facet joint pain. Facet injury symptoms can mimic disc herniation injuries, so a careful examination is required. They will likely order X-rays, CT, MRI or bone scan to help diagnose the problem.
Treating Facet Joint Injuries
Spinal facet joint injuries cannot be reversed, but there are a number of ways to mitigate pain. Exercise, lifestyle changes, proper posture, weight loss, physical therapy, medication, and careful management of your back pain can increase the quality of life. If conservative treatments fail to alleviate or control pain, a doctor may recommend injections, ablations or surgery.
Steroid joint injection is a minimally invasive procedure where corticosteroids and numbing agents are injected into the painful joint. Steroids reduce swelling and inflammation around the nerves. Pain relief will last days, months or years. Physical therapy and lifestyle changes afterward can improve the condition as well. Should the pain return, the facet joint injection procedure can be repeated.
Nerve radiofrequency ablation may be the next step if pain reoccurs frequently after a steroid joint injection. An ablation procedure burns the tiny nerves around the facet’s joint capsule. A nerve block test is used to determine which nerves need to be treated. Anesthetic is also injected to help block the pain. A successful procedure will likely result in providing lasting pain relief.
Surgery may be recommended if all other treatment options fail to provide adequate pain relief. Spinal fusion surgery is used when there is nerve root compression from enlarged facet joints, degenerative disc disease, or spinal instability. By fusing the injured portion of a spinal vertebra it keeps the damaged facet joints from moving and causing pain.
Getting Legal Help for Facet Joint Injuries
Facet joint injuries are a type of injury that does not heal once it becomes damaged, leaving the victim with chronic or recurring pain. Whether your injury was caused by being rear-ended or lifted a heavy object the wrong way while on the job, you deserve to have your medical treatment covered by the insurance company.
The pain is real. Gary Martin Hays & Associates can help victims suffering because of an auto accident or work injury find the right doctor for them and get them back on their feet.
Talk to our Atlanta personal injury attorneys today for a free evaluation of your case. We take spinal pain, back pain, and other injuries caused by negligence seriously.