Is Facet Disease Arthritis?

What Is Facet Disease

Many terms related to the spine and back pain can sound scary — and facet disease is a great example. Going to the doctor and finding out that the source of your pain and other symptoms is a type of disease can bring a range of questions and concerns. How did it develop? Will it get worse? Is there a cure? 

While facet disease is a serious diagnosis, it is also a relatively common, usually age-related condition that affects the joints in the spine. And because it is a joint disease, another common question is whether facet disease is a type of arthritis. 

The short answer is that in most cases, facet disease is a type of arthritis that affects the joints in the spine. By learning more about this condition and how it relates to arthritis, you can make informed treatment decisions that are right for your needs and lifestyle. We hope the following guide can help. 


What Is Facet Disease?


Facet disease is a general term describing a condition when the joints in the spine become a source of chronic pain and mobility problems. The vertebrae that make up the spinal column are linked together by sets of joints, called facet joints, that enable the spine to bend, twist, and flex. Like other joints, the facet joints are covered in cartilage and lubricated by joint fluid. 

There are a wide range of causes that can cause these joints to become painful and inflamed, including natural degeneration of joint tissue that leads to bone-on-bone friction, post-traumatic stress related to injury, and other conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis. Symptoms of facet disease can include: 


  • Localized joint pain
  • Stiffness and reduced mobility
  • A grinding and popping sensation in the joints, called crepitus
  • The development of bone spurs 
  • Radiating pain due to nerve compression


Facet disease is not a reversible condition, with treatment usually focusing on managing symptoms and improving overall health. 


What Is Arthritis? 


As a whole, arthritis refers to persistent swelling and inflammation of one or more joints in the body that causes symptoms like pain and reduced range of motion. According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis actually encompasses more than 100 unique conditions that can impact joint health and cause health problems. 

By far the most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA,) which is inflammation in the joints caused by age-related breakdown of cartilage and the drying out of synovial joint fluid. Other types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and forms of metabolic arthritis such as gout. Symptoms and treatment can vary depending on the type of arthritis and the location, but the goal of any therapy is generally to reduce joint pain and stiffness related to inflammation. 


Is Facet Disease a Type of Arthritis? 


In nearly any case, facet disease refers to facet joint pain caused by or closely related to some form of arthritis. For many people, facet disease will specifically be caused by facet osteoarthritis, which is inflammation of the facet joints caused by breakdown of the protective cartilage surrounding the edge of each facet joint. 

Everyone is different, and the causes of neck and back pain can be very unique to each person. If you have facet disease and have questions about the exact cause of your condition, speak to your doctor or pain management specialist for more information or clarification. 


Treatment Options for Facet Disease


Although facet disease is not curable, there are many effective treatments for managing pain and improving joint function. A holistic care plan for facet disease can include:


  • Getting plenty of rest and limiting stress on the spine
  • Using hot and cold therapy, such as alternating a heating pad with an ice pack, to reduce inflammation and improve circulation
  • Taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Performing gentle stretches to help loosen stiff joints
  • Undergoing physical therapy to strengthen supporting muscles, improve posture, and increase range of motion
  • Receiving interventional pain management, such as facet joint injections 
  • Undergoing radiofrequency ablation, which can reduce nerve pain in an inflamed facet joint


Spine surgery is generally a last resort treatment for facet disease, and recommended in cases where there is narrowing and nerve compression related to bone spurs or seriously inflamed joints. 

If facet disease pain is seriously affecting your quality of life and ability to spend time with loved ones, it is possible to find relief. At Physician Partners of America (PPOA,) we are committed to helping people living with debilitating pain create personalized, compassionate treatment plans that deliver meaningful relief. 

Take your life back from pain. Contact the dedicated team at PPOA to start your treatment journey today.