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What Are My Options for Alleviating Cervical and Lumbar Facet Arthritis Pain?

What Are My Options for Alleviating Cervical and Lumbar Facet Arthritis Pain?

Award-winning pain management specialist Dr. John S. Michels provides comprehensive treatment for chronic and acute pain at his busy practice in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas.

Dr. Michels has significant expertise in restoring mobility and improving his patients’ overall quality of life with the most effective, nonsurgical therapies available for peripheral neuropathy and other nerve injuries, herniated discschronic headaches, and osteoarthritis.

He’s happy to answer questions about facet joint arthritis and minimally invasive treatment solutions available for this common condition.

What is facet joint arthritis?

Facet joints connect the vertically stacked bones (vertebrae) in your spine. These tiny joints give your back and neck flexibility. Their hinge-like nature also helps prevent an excessive range of motion that would compromise spinal stability.

Like other joints, the facets are vulnerable to osteoarthritis, which occurs when cartilage in the joint wears away and loses its cushioning effect. These changes lead to joint swelling and stiffness and varying degrees of pain in the back and neck that tend to worsen as the damage advances.

Changes in the joint can also affect nearby nerves, causing pain that travels into the head, neck, upper back, shoulders, or legs. Your symptoms may worsen with certain activities or after a period of inactivity. 

Stiffness related to facet joint arthritis, for example, is often worse first thing in the morning and may eventually affect your overall mobility.

Facet joint arthritis is usually related to aging, poor posture, or other conditions that compromise spinal health and mobility, such as degenerative disc disease.

How do you treat facet joint arthritis?

Treatment goals for facet joint arthritis include relieving pain, restoring mobility, and preventing further joint damage.

The most effective treatments include:

Dr. Michels may also recommend a medial branch nerve block or nonsurgical nerve ablation (rhizotomy) when oral medications or other conservative treatments don’t significantly relieve facet joint arthritis pain.

What is a medial branch nerve block for facet arthritis?

Medial branch nerves carry pain signals from arthritic facet joints to the brain. During a medial branch nerve block, Dr. Michels injects the area near these irritated nerves with an anesthetic that blocks pain signals.

While not a permanent fix, a medial branch nerve block can accurately determine if the patient’s neck or back pain is truly due to facet arthritis, or some other etiology.

If a nerve block provides relief that doesn't last, Dr. Michels may recommend rhizotomy for long-term pain management.

What happens during a rhizotomy for facet joint arthritis?

Rhizotomy, also known as radiofrequency nerve ablation, is an in-office procedure that uses heat to destroy nerve fibers carrying pain signals from the involved facet joint to the brain. The nerve fibers eventually regrow, but a rhizotomy can relieve your pain for several years.

During radiofrequency rhizotomy, Dr. Michels applies an electrical current to the affected nerve via a needle-like device introduced under advanced imaging technology for accuracy. 

Discomfort related to rhizotomy is minimal, which typically offers immediate pain relief and does not require long-term recovery or downtime. Many people return to routine activities within a few hours of the procedure.

Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Michels today for more information about rhizotomy and other treatments for facet joint arthritis. Call the office or request an appointment online.

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