Facet Cyst

NJ Spine Center Dr. Lipp

Facet cysts or synovial cysts, are fluid-filled sacs located in the joints of the spine.  They typically develop as a result of a degeneration of the spine. This is most commonly due to age.  While they can be found throughout the spine, they are most commonly located in the lumbar region.

As the facet joint in your spine wears down with age, it can produce more fluid than a healthy joint as the damaged joint required more lubrication to ease movement.  This increase in fluid may cause a cyst to develop.  While not dangerous, it may begin pushing on the nerve root and cause pain.

Symptoms may vary depending on the size and location of the cyst.  Generally patients will experience back or leg pain that worsens when standing and walking.  If the cysts are large enough, spinal stenosis may occur, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal.  Should this occur, the patient may experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both legs.  Facet cysts may also cause sciatica, which would likely present as pain in one or both legs which typically radiates to the foot.

At your visit, the doctor will likely order a series of imaging tests to assess if there is any spinal damage and to look for any issues before performing cyst removal surgery.  Imaging tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • MRIs
  • CAT scans

Facet cysts are generally treated surgically with the removal of the cyst and decompression of the spinal cord and nerves.  After removing the cyst, your surgeon may need to fuse the joint to prevent the cyst from reoccurring and prevent any further instability of the affected joint.