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Minimally invasive procedures offer hope for facet arthritis

Facet joint disease is one of the most common back pain problems and is often age-related. It can cause a range of issues from mild discomfort to throbbing pain. For patients who have not achieved results through conservative treatment, minimally invasive laser spine procedures can make a big difference in quality of life.

“The laser is an amazing tool for targeting the nerves that cause pain. It offers great precision and longer lasting results,” says Dr. James St. Louis, director of PPOA’s Minimally Invasive Group.

What are facet joints?

These joints are found on both sides of every vertebra (bone) in the spine. They not only stabilize and hold the spine together; they make it possible for your back to twist. Facets are lined with cartilage that acts as a shock absorber and maintains smooth movement between the vertebrae.

Facet joint disease happens when the joints degenerate to the point where the nerves that exit them are impinged. This can happen by the normal wear and tear as we get older – in short, spine arthritis. These joints can also be damaged through trauma, disease and obesity.

Symptoms of facet arthritis

The condition adds pressure to the nearby nerves and can result in swelling and inflammation. If this occurs in the upper part of the back, it will usually cause pain in the head, neck or shoulders. If it occurs in the mid to lower spine, it can cause radiating pain in the lower back, buttocks or legs. Left to progress, it may cause bone spurs, cysts or thickened ligaments.

This condition goes by different names: facet syndrome, facet arthritis, facet hypertrophy and spinal osteoarthritis. By any name, it should be evaluated and treated if it is causing symptoms. Left to progress, it can cause bone spurs, cysts or thickened ligaments.

Laser spine treatment of facet disease

The laser treats pain-causing nerves with less disturbance to muscle and tissue than other techniques. The result is less trauma to the body and a faster recovery. Our surgeons make a 2-3 mm. incision at the treatment site. A very narrow tube, about the width of a needle, is inserted and guided by live x-ray to the treatment area.  The laser is then threaded through the tube and used to ablate the nerve that is being compressed.

When to seek help for facet syndrome

We should point out that some people with facet joint disease never experience pain; in fact, they are surprised to learn they have this disorder. In others, mild symptoms can be treated with rest, physical therapy, heat therapy and anti-inflammatory medication.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who live with excruciating pain every day. For those whose quality of life is affected, minimally invasive laser spine procedures can in some cases provide instant relief.

A diagnosis from a Physician Partners of America board certified pain management physician or spine specialist can tell you how severe your particular case is and how it should be treated.

For more information about facet joint disease and treatment options, please contact our minimally invasive laser spine specialists at 855-25-LASER.