Cervical facet joint arthritis is a degenerative condition that wears down the joints located in the cervical spine around the neck. As the bones start creating friction with each other due to cartilage deterioration, symptoms like stiffness, pain, and headaches start to appear.
As the condition worsens, it could irritate the sciatic nerves in the spinal cord. A characteristic sign of this development is the radiation of pain from the neck into the lower back and legs.
It is important to differentiate between sciatica and cervical facet joint arthritis since the treatment approaches may vary. Having a professional diagnosis can help determine the best treatment plan for each case.
Cervical facet joint arthritis is usually related to aging. However, external factors like a physical injury or bad posture could also increase the risk of developing cervical facet joint arthritis. Some of the most common causes of this condition include the following:
- Trauma or injury to the neck: Physical damage from a workplace injury or car accident could be the root cause of cervical facet joint arthritis.
- Degenerative changes in the cervical spine: Aging causes wear in the spine, leading to the breakage of cartilage.
- Obesity: Excess weight could potentially increase the risk of developing cervical facet joint arthritis since extra stress on the lumbar area accelerates wear.
- Poor posture: When sitting or standing in the wrong position, your cervical spine could become damaged and develop arthritis.
Multiple signs, including the following can identify cervical facet joint arthritis:
- Diffused and achy pain in the shoulders, neck, and upper back
- Reduced neck movement
- Tenderness around the affected joint
To diagnose cervical facet joint arthritis, your doctor will follow these steps:
Congenital factors could severely contribute to developing a degenerative condition like cervical facet joint arthritis.
If no genetic disorders are identified, your doctor will continue physically examining your lower back area and legs.
X-rays, MRIs, and CT Scans can help visualize any damage in the spine that wasn’t noticed during the physical examination.
These involve a temporary nerve numbing that sends pain signals into the brain. Diagnostic nerve blocks are performed to determine the specific cause of pain in the lumbar region.
As cervical facet joint arthritis is a degenerative condition, treatments focus on stopping its progression and restoring your spinal health. To achieve this, your doctor may choose from the following procedures:
Conservative therapies are procedures that use multiple exercises or healthcare techniques to alleviate pain symptoms without disrupting your nerves.
Using these kinds of treatments along with non-opioid medications or minimally invasive interventions is suggested. Options include:
- Massage therapy
- Chiropractic care
Some lifestyle tips that could help alleviate the symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:
- Performing low-impact exercises to strengthen the muscles around the spine and add flexibility to the lumbar area.
- Having a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle to manage weight and reduce lumbar stress.
- Using ergonomic chairs improves posture and reduces pressure and pain in your spine.
Compared to regular medication, non-opioids offer multiple benefits, like a significant reduction of addiction risk, fewer side effects, and less likely to cause drowsiness or impaired driving conditions.
They can be effective in treating mild to moderate pain and can be used in combination with other treatments, such as physical therapy or chiropractic care.
Non-opioid medications to treat cervical facet joint arthritis include the following:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Muscle relaxants
Unlike local anesthetics, injections offer longer-lasting relief for patients dealing with cervical facet joint arthritis. Steroid injections, for example, are injected near the spinal nerve area, stopping the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Facet joint injections, on the other hand, are targeted into the joints on the vertebra that could be causing nerve compression.
Pain management procedures target the nerves that send pain signals into the brain. When combined with physical therapy, this medical branch can significantly improve quality of life. This is because no pain will be felt before the full spinal recovery.
Options to treat cervical facet joint arthritis include:
- Medial branch blocks involve the insertion of a small needle through which an anesthetic solution will be injected.
- Radiofrequency ablation uses heat from radio waves to help reduce nerve irritation.
Neuromodulation can help reduce the lumbar stress caused by cervical facet joint arthritis by using nerve stimulation. Some of these treatments include the following options:
- Spinal cord stimulation is a treatment that uses electrical impulses to modify the nerve activity in the spine. As the nerve signals become blocked by this stimulation, the pain won’t be felt even though the symptom source remains.
Cryoneurolysis is a type of minimally invasive medical intervention that uses cold temperatures to disrupt the function of the nerves, alleviating cervical facet joint arthritis symptoms.
During the procedure, a device called a cryoprobe is inserted near the nerves that have been sending pain signals to the brain and uses cold temperatures to control and freeze it.
Compared to surgical treatments, this procedure aims to reduce pain and restore mobility without the need for complex surgeries. This significantly reduces complication rates and recovery time.