Surgeons sometimes recommend laminectomy surgery for individuals suffering from severe facet joint arthritis, a common condition that occurs when the cartilage between a facet joint breaks down. Although most facet joint arthritis cases do not require surgery, if symptoms do not respond to other forms of treatment, a laminectomy or spinal fusion may be the next option.

In addition to laminectomy surgery, spinal fusion is commonly performed to treat facet joint arthritis. The type of surgery required will depend on a host of factors, including the patient’s age, medical history, and the exact details of the condition. Some patients respond better to vertebral fusions, but if the spinal canal has narrowed and is invading the spinal cord, a laminectomy may be required.

Understanding Facet Joint Arthritis

The facet joints are located on the back of the spine and connect the vertebrae, allowing the spine to bend and twist at will. Cartilage and fluid keep these joints mobile and flexible. Over time, however, arthritis (or degeneration of the cartilage) can cause these facet joints to breakdown. In other cases, trauma may cause issues with the facet joints.

The more degeneration that occurs, the more pain and loss of motion the patient will experience. Some of the signs of facet joint arthritis include:

  • Persistent tenderness along the spine
  • More discomfort when leaning backward
  • Episodes of intermittent pain and discomfort
  • Low back pain that radiates down the back of the legs

Please keep in mind that pain is not always associated with spinal arthritis. Other signs that you may be suffering from facet joint arthritis are numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.

What is Laminectomy Surgery?

Both laminectomy surgery and spinal fusion surgery are elective, so discuss with your doctor before considering meeting with a surgeon. Doctors sometimes recommend a lumbar laminectomy if the spinal canal needs to be widened to relieve compression. During this procedure, the spine surgeon removes the lamina (the backside of the spinal canal) to enlarge the spinal column and take away any pressure on the nerves.

Laminectomy is a common procedure that typically focuses on the lumbar region of the back and is ideal for patients with spinal stenosis. Depending on the patient, Dr. Atwater may also remove any bone spurs that have formed on the spine as a result of arthritis.

What is Spinal Fusion?

In addition to laminectomy surgery, spinal fusion may also offer relief for patients with facet joint arthritis. Whereas a laminectomy aims to widen the spinal canal, spinal fusion surgery is the welding of the affected vertebrae, turning two or more bones into one.

Patients who are experiencing pain provoked by actions like bending and twisting may benefit from a spinal fusion. Also, if your spine is damaged by accident injury, tumors, or conditions like scoliosis, you may want to consider discussing spinal fusion surgery with your medical provider.

A spinal fusion will provide added stability and treat a wide range of injuries and conditions of the vertebrae, including osteoarthritis.

If you have questions about facet joint arthritis or would like to learn more about these two surgical options, please contact OSA and make an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. Dr. Atwater is here to ensure you understand your options and help you find the best treatment for your specific needs.

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