The older you get, the more likely you are to develop osteoarthritis, including a type in the neck known as facet syndrome. However, there's no reason to suffer—there are a number of effective treatments that can bring you relief from the associated symptoms. If you're experiencing chronic neck pain that seems to be growing worse with time, learn more about this painful condition (and what you can do to get some relief).

What is facet syndrome?

The facet joints in your body are tiny joints behind and between the vertebrae in your spine, all the way from your tailbone to your neck. These tiny joints are part of what make you flexible, and they can get damaged through injury, daily use, or age-related diseases like osteoarthritis. While anyone can experience occasional pain, facet syndrome leads to several chronic symptoms:

  • constant pain that radiates into your shoulders and arms
  • headaches and ringing in the ears
  • weakness in your arms or hands
  • pain that increases over the course of the day
  • stiffness and a lack of mobility in your neck
  • a grinding sound when you flex your neck too far in any direction

As the facets break down, the cartilage and fluid that lubricate your joints can also wear away. Bone spurs, which are abnormal growths caused by body's attempt to strengthen itself by producing extra tissue, can form and press on the nerves running through the spinal canal. The combination is ultimately what leads to the chronic nature of the condition.

How can facet syndrome be treated?

The first thing you should do is discuss the symptoms with your doctor. He may decide to refer you over to a pain management specialist—they have specialized training that allows them to treat these kinds of chronic conditions. While facet syndrome can't be cured, it can be effectively managed with regular treatment.

You'll probably have to undergo some diagnostic tests, including x-rays and bone density tests. Part of the goal will be to determine how severe the condition currently is and to try to keep it from getting worse. A bone density test will tell the doctor if you need additional treatment for osteoporosis, a condition which weakens your bones and can contribute to the aggravation of facet syndrome. Far from being an inevitable part of aging, osteoporosis can be treated with lifestyle modifications and medication.

Your doctor will also aim to control your pain. While some people benefit from physical therapy, others need a combination of anti-inflammatory medications and narcotic painkillers to help. Injections of cortisone, a steroid, can also be used to provide longer-lasting relief. If your condition doesn't respond to more conservative treatment, your doctor may ultimately recommend a joint fusion (arthrodesis), using bone grafts to help relieve the pressure on your nerves.

If you've been suffering with chronic neck pain and other symptoms that could be related to facet syndrome, contact your doctor as soon as possible to discuss the possibility of treatment. Contact a company like Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates for more information.