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What is a Facet Fusion?

A facet fusion is considered the most reliable form of treatment for facet joint pain. The facet fusion procedure permanently fuses together facet joints, which connect the bones of the spine, preventing movement; by preventing movement the joint is unable to grind together. Facet joints contain synovial fluid that produces a lubrication effect to prevent the bone from grinding together. These joints can wear down over time due to age, injury, loss of synovial fluid, and disease, causing pain in the spine.

What Does a Facet Fusion Treat?

Facet fusion procedures treat pain originating in the facet joint, when conservative methods are not a viable solution. The vertebrae in the targeted area will be fused together to stop all movement in the facet joints, eliminating the ability for facet joint pain.

How Does the Procedure Work?

During the minimally-invasive facet fusion procedure, the patient will lie prone on their stomach. Local or general anesthesia is administered, preventing the patient from experiencing any pain or discomfort during the procedure. The surgeon will make a small incision, and insert a guidepin over the facet joint. Using a series of dilation tubes, the opening is carefully expanded, creating an open space over the targeted facet joint for the surgeon to operate. Using the guidance of fluoroscopy, the physician will guide a facet locator, a small flat device to align inside the facet joint.
A drill guide is inserted around the facet locator device, and the drill guide is tapped into place with a surgical hammer. The facet locator is removed and a drill is inserted into the drill guide, creating a small cavity in the facet joint. A small device is inserted into the opening created, locking the joint in place.
The drill guide and dilation tube are removed. The surgeon will close the incision, and the patient is released from the operating room. The patient is monitored in a recovery room before being released. The patient will need someone else to drive them home following the procedure. Patients may experience initial discomfort, and most patients may return to their normal routine within 7 days, however any activity that can strain the spine, such as lifting heavy objects, should be avoided for up to 6 weeks.

What are the Risks?

Although the complication rate for facet fusion procedures is low, all surgical procedures have risk of infection, and procedures that uses general or local anesthesia have risks of anesthetic complications. The facet fusion procedure is considered to be low risk. Facet Fusion is a minimally-invasive procedure, which has substantially lower risk of complications, including infection, when compared to open surgery.

Benefits of Facet Fusions

After the procedure, most patients are able to be active again, requiring minimal to no rehabilitation. A facet fusion can allow for rapid back pain relief, that conventional methods are unable to treat. Preventing movement in the painful joint, decreases the pain caused by the joint grinding together.