Facet syndrome in the lumbar spine affects the facet joints of the lower back. In a healthy spine, these lubricated joints are covered with cartilage, which not only serves to protect the joints, but also provides them with cushioning so that the vertebrae can articulate without friction. However, as part of the aging process, this cartilage gradually begins to wear away, and the vertebral joints are less able to hinge freely. Bone-on-bone friction can cause osteophytes to develop, which may cause painful compression of nearby spinal nerves.
Susceptibility of the lower back
The lumbar spine, or the lower back, is the most common region of the spine for facet syndrome to develop because the lumbar spine is unique in two ways:
- Relative flexibility – Because the lower back is involved in so many of the body’s movements, it is the most flexible region of the spine. While the cervical spine and the thoracic spine serve slightly more protective and stabilizing roles, the lumbar spine facilitates a wide range of bending, twisting and arching.
- Weight-bearing responsibility – In addition to being the most flexible region of the spine, the lower back also bears the largest amount of weight. Its vertebrae and intervertebral discs are the largest of the entire spine, and this level of the back supports nearly half of the body’s weight.
Treating lumbar facet syndrome
Although we use our lower backs for so many of our daily movements, facet syndrome in this region does not necessarily mean that you will be sidelined. In fact, the majority of patients who have spinal facet syndrome are able to find relief through a consistent regimen of conservative, non-operative treatments. Talk to your physician about the possibility of pain medication, physical therapy, behavior modification, hot/cold compresses or other methods of treatment. Epidural steroid injections or topical analgesic pain patches may also prove beneficial.
In the event that these treatment techniques prove ineffective and your facet syndrome has become severe and chronic, surgery may become an option. Consider contacting Laser Spine Institute to find out more about our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that have helped tens of thousands of patients find relief from neck and back pain.