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What is facet hypertrophy?

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Facet hypertrophy occurs when a spinal nerve root is pinched by vertebral joint enlargement, reports Cedars Sinai. Facet joints exist between the vertebrae and allow the spine to bend and twist. Nerve roots pass through openings in facet joints and branch into the limbs and other body parts.

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Injury or arthritis cause swelling in the facet joints that results in pain and stiffness. This condition is known as facet joint syndrome, explains Cedar Sinai. It can cause headaches when it affects the upper spine and buttock or thigh pain when it affects the lower spine. The stiffness associated with the condition inhibits the ability to turn the head to the side, stand upright and rise from a seated position.

Symptom reduction or relief on injection of anesthetic or anti-inflammatory medication into the facet joint confirms the diagnosis of facet joint syndrome or facet hypertrophy. Steroid injections can relieve pain for an extended period of time, according to Cedars Sinai. Physical therapy, prescription anti-inflammatory medication and the use of a back brace are more conservative approaches to the treatment of facet joint syndrome. Doctors may perform a rhizotomy, which is the severing of the anterior and posterior sections of the affected nerve root, in more severe cases of facet hypertrophy.

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