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Facet Cyst

Facet joint cysts, also referred to as synovial cysts, represent fluid-filled sacs that develop in response to the degeneration of the facet joints within the spine. While commonly located in the lumbar spine or lower back, these cysts may exist without causing noticeable issues. However, as they expand in size, concerns arise, potentially leading to a condition known as spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis involves the narrowing of the spinal canal, and when facet joint cysts reach a significant size, they contribute to this narrowing. The consequence is the compression of the spinal cord or spinal nerves, potentially giving rise to a range of symptoms and complications.

It's crucial to monitor the presence and growth of facet joint cysts, especially considering their potential impact on the intricate network of the spinal column. Early detection and appropriate management can be key in addressing any symptoms and ensuring the optimal function of the spine. If you suspect facet joint cysts might be a concern, seeking medical advice for a comprehensive evaluation is recommended for a thorough understanding of your unique situation and appropriate guidance on potential treatment options.


Lower Back and Leg Discomfort:
Individuals may experience pain and cramping in the lower back and legs, stemming from the compression effects of facet joint cysts on the spinal canal.

Radiating Leg Pain:
Pain that radiates down the back of the leg to the foot is a common manifestation, highlighting the impact of the cysts on nerve pathways.

Leg Numbness or Tingling: Facet joint cysts can induce sensations of numbness or tingling in the legs, further emphasizing the neurological consequences of spinal stenosis.

Exacerbation with Activity:
Increased pain during standing or walking is a characteristic feature, as the physical stress on the spine intensifies the compression on nerves.

In rare instances, the presence of a facet joint cyst may lead to a severe condition known as cauda equina syndrome. This critical condition has the potential to cause paralysis and result in the loss of bladder and bowel function. Prompt medical attention is essential in such cases, as permanent consequences may ensue if not treated emergently.

Surgical Intervention for Severe Cases:
When symptoms persist and are not alleviated through conservative measures such as pain medication, activity modification, and joint injections, surgical removal of the facet joint cyst becomes a recommended course of action. This intervention aims to address the underlying cause and provide relief from the debilitating effects of spinal stenosis caused by facet joint cysts.


The origin of spinal cysts remains elusive, yet they are believed to stem from the degeneration and instability of the spine, particularly in areas exposed to repetitive motion, such as the joints in the lumbar region. Individuals with spinal cysts may also concurrently experience other degenerative conditions of the spine, such as arthritis and disk disease.


When a patient presents symptoms, a doctor may initially suggest an X-ray to eliminate other potential issues, although the definitive identification of a facet joint cyst typically relies on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Through MRI, the cyst becomes unmistakably visible, resembling a bubble-like growth adjacent to a facet joint—an interconnection between the vertebrae of the spine.

Understanding both the size and precise location of the cyst plays a crucial role in formulating an effective treatment plan. This diagnostic insight empowers the doctor to tailor interventions that specifically address the unique characteristics of the cyst, ensuring a targeted and comprehensive approach to the patient's care.


To alleviate the pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves caused by a facet joint cyst, your doctor may recommend a procedure known as microdecompression. This surgical intervention is often complemented by the fusion of adjacent vertebrae to deter the recurrence of the cyst.

The surgical process is conducted under general anesthesia, and you will be positioned face down on the operating table.

The key steps of the microdecompression procedure include:

Endoscopy: Using the endoscope's guidance, the surgeon carefully navigates to the facet joint where the cyst is located. Specialized instruments are used to remove the cyst and any associated tissue causing compression on nearby nerves or spinal cord.

Incision: Your surgeon will make an incision of approximately 1 to 1½ inches along the midline, precisely over the affected region of the spine identified through prior imaging studies.

Muscle Elevation: The overlying back muscles are delicately lifted off the involved vertebrae and carefully moved to the side, exposing the targeted area.

Exposure of Vertebrae: The bony arches and facet joint of the vertebrae are exposed, providing direct access to the affected site.

Bone Adjustment: A small portion of bone is removed from the vertebral arches to enhance accessibility, and the ligamentous membrane (ligamentum flavum) between the vertebral arches is also removed.

Cyst Removal: The facet joint cyst is meticulously removed, relieving the compression on the spinal nerve.

Muscle Restoration: The lifted muscles are placed back into their original position, and the incision is carefully closed.

If spinal fusion is deemed necessary, the following steps may be undertaken:

Bone Graft Placement: A bone graft is inserted between the vertebrae slated for fusion.

Stabilization Mechanism: Metal plates, screws, or rods are employed to secure the vertebrae, facilitating the fusion process.

Preventing Recurrence: Fusion of the joint not only provides stability but also acts as a preventive measure, reducing the likelihood of cyst regeneration.

Key advantages associated with the removal of facet joint cysts encompass:

Minimally Invasive Procedure: Facet joint cyst removal is typically conducted through minimally invasive surgery, minimizing the impact on surrounding tissues and expediting the recovery process.

High Success Rate: The procedure boasts a high rate of success in alleviating symptoms associated with spinal cysts, offering patients a tangible improvement in their overall condition.

Swift Recovery: Patients undergoing facet joint cyst removal often experience a relatively quick recovery period. The minimally invasive nature of the surgery contributes to a faster return to regular activities.

Prevention of Cyst Reformation: One of the notable benefits is the reduced risk of cyst reformation. The surgical intervention is designed not only to address the existing cyst but also to deter its recurrence, providing a sustainable solution to the condition.

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