Though muscle and ligament strain are the most common causes of low back pain, degeneration of the intervertebral discs and osteoarthritis of the facet joints are also major causes of low back pain and other spinal health issues. Recently, researchers set out to find whether disc degeneration and osteoarthritis of the facet joints are related and how they develop throughout life.
The study was done because it is difficult to image the facet joint’s degenerative history and its relationship to other degeneration in the spine. Organ donors were used to compare the characteristics of the lumbar spine to the condition of their nearby intervertebral discs. This was assessed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
It was found that not only is facet degeneration common, it was found as early as 15 years old even though the intervertebral disc remained normal. The most severe facet degeneration was found at L4/L5. Facet degeneration progressed along with disc degeneration throughout life.
Researchers were surprised that facet degeneration can begin at such early ages. They concluded that facet joint degeneration needs to be explored when determining osteoarthritis of the spine and causes of lower back pain in general. A chiropractor can assess yours or your adolescent’s overall spinal health and determine if there is a risk of developing lower back problems due to osteoarthritis and degeneration.
Li J, Muehleman C, Abe Y, Masuda K. Prevalence of facet joint degeneration in association with intervertebral joint degeneration in a sample of organ donors. Journal of Orthopaedic Research. 2011 Feb 25. Doi:10.1002/jor. 21387.