✓The clinical success of lumbar spinal fusion varies considerably, depending on techniques and indications. Although spinal fusion generally helps to eliminate certain types of pain, it may also decrease function by limiting patient mobility. Furthermore, spinal fusion may increase stresses on adjacent nonfused motion segments, accelerating the natural degeneration process at adjacent discs. Additionally, pseudarthrosis, that is, incomplete or ineffective fusion, may result in an absence of pain relief. Finally, the recuperation time after a fusion procedure can be lengthy.
The era of disc replacement is in its third decade, and this procedure has demonstrated promise in relieving back pain through preservation of motion. Total joint replacement with facet arthroplasty of the lumbar spine is a new concept in the field of spinal surgery. The devices used are intended to replace either the entire functional spinal unit (FSU) or just the facets. These devices provide dynamic stabilization for the functional spinal segment as an adjunct to disc replacement or laminectomy and facetectomy performed for neural decompression. The major role of facet replacement is to augment the instabilities created by the surgical decompression or to address chronic instability. Additionally, facet joint replacement devices can be used to replace the painful facet joints, restore stability, and/or to salvage a failed disc or nucleus prosthesis without losing motion.
In this paper the authors review and discuss the role of the lumbar facet joints as part of the three-joint complex and discuss their role in intersegmental motion load transfer and multidirectional flexibility in a lumbar FSU.