What Is Facet Joint Syndrome?

Facet joint syndrome is a painful spinal condition that can make it hard to do normal activities. This article will walk you through what facet joint syndrome involves and how it can be treated.


Overview of facet joint syndrome

Facet joint syndrome is a condition that affects the joints in the spinal column. Each vertebra of the spine is composed of its own facet joint and disc that allows smooth, normal movements of the spine. Discs cushion the space between each vertebra, and facet joints line the back of the spine.

Each facet joint is lined with cartilage and then coated with synovial fluid to ensure a healthy range of motion in the back. A joint capsule also caps the bones in the facet joint to provide further lubrication in the joint. Normally, each of these layers of protection preserve the flexibility and functioning of the joint.

Over time, the cartilage protecting the facet joint can begin to suffer wear-and-tear, leading to the degeneration of the joint. Without cartilage, the bones of the spine will begin to rub painfully against each other and can even create bone spurs in the spine.

This irritation in the spine can cause pain and inflammation in the spine, making it difficult to move normally. The unnatural movements of the spine can also lead to painful spasms in the surrounding muscles.

Like most forms of arthritis, those with facet joint syndrome can try a variety of treatments to calm inflammation and other painful syndromes of joint degeneration.


Causes of facet joint syndrome

Facet joint syndrome tends to develop over time due to the wear-and-tear of the cartilage in the facet joints of the spine. Common causes of this wear-and-tear include

  •       Age: As we get older, we are more likely to experience wear-and-tear in the facet joints
  •       Weight: Being overweight or obese puts more strain on the facet joints, sometimes leading to more degeneration
  •       Repetitive stress: Frequent strain from sports or other intense activities can speed up the joint degeneration process
  •       Spinal injury: Sometimes, facet joint syndrome can develop quickly if a spinal injury manages to harm the cartilage in the facet joints
  •       Poor posture: Over time, poor posture puts more pressure on the spine and can lead to unnatural spinal positions that advance the wear-and-tear in the facet joints

These factors can increase the risk of developing facet joint syndrome as a result of increased wear-and-tear in the joints.


Symptoms of facet joint syndrome

Common symptoms of facet joint syndrome include

  •       Aching pain in the back (can be long-lasting or occasional flare-ups)
  •       Pain may radiate upward or downward in the body
  •       More pain while standing or during activity
  •       Tenderness in the back
  •       Stiffness in the back
  •       Limited range of motion in the back

It’s important to recognize that pain associated with facet joint syndrome can be a chronic aching pain or can flare up unexpectedly as the result of a triggering event (like a bad twist or turn). As the joint continues to degenerate, pain and inflammation in the joint may become more persistent.


Treatment for facet joint syndrome

Facet joint syndrome can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the severity of the condition. Conservative treatments to reduce pressure and inflammation in the spine include

  •       Maintaining proper posture
  •       Losing weight
  •       Physical therapy exercises that strengthen your back and improve your range of motion
  •       Anti-inflammatory pain relievers
  •       Prescribed steroid injections

In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve pain and inflammation in the facet joint. Spinal fusion is a procedure that involves surgically joining two vertebrae in the spine. This procedure can help reduce inflammation and restore stability in the spine if conservative treatments fail to provide relief.

An orthopaedic specialist will determine the best course of treatment depending on the individual case.


Treating facet joint syndrome at OAR

Facet joint syndrome can be painful and limiting. At OAR, our experienced team of orthopaedic specialists and surgeons are ready to help you start finding relief from chronic back pain and inflammation. We will work with you to find the best treatments depending on your individual needs to get you back to doing what you love.

Only a doctor can tell you if you have this ailment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used in lieu of a doctor’s opinion.

Contact us today!