facet joint syndrome

Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet joint syndrome is a painful arthritis-like condition found in the back and neck. Facet joints are part of a three-point system that holds together the vertebrae and allows the full range of spinal movement. The vertebrae are connected by a large disc at the front and two facet joints at the back. This provides a strong design that allows the vertebrae to slide and move, but still keeps everything in place.

What is Facet Joint Syndrome?

Like other joints in the body, the facet joints are in constant motion and are subject to the same wear and tear that can happen in areas such as knees or elbows over time. Changes in the spine can put pressure on these joints, causing the smooth cartilage to become rough and possibly develop bone spurs. Similar to arthritis in other joints, this can result in inflammation that creates pain, soreness and stiffness. Also like arthritis, the discomfort may increase with inactivity, leading to worse pain in the morning that improves as you move around and go about your day.

What Causes Facet Joint Syndrome?

Facet syndrome is caused by an increased load on the facet joints. A number of issues may be at the root of the problem:
  • Degenerative changes in the spine, such as disc degeneration, are the most common cause of facet syndrome. This can put added stress and strain on the joint.
  • Lifestyle factors, such as poor posture or obesity, can also contribute to the condition by overloading the spinal structures.
  • Finally, a traumatic back or neck injury, such as whiplash, can lead to issues with the facet joints.

What are the Symptoms of the Condition?

Facet syndrome may exist undetected until something happens to trigger symptoms. It can present as pain in the neck or lower back and can radiate to other nearby areas.

Cervical facet syndrome can be accompanied by pain in the base of the skull, neck, upper back or shoulders. Frequent headaches may also be a symptom.

Thoracic facet syndrome occurs in the lower back and is often felt as a dull ache directly above the spine that may move into the buttocks, hips, groin or thighs.

Pain may increase as you bend near the affected joint and may decrease with movements that relieve the pressure on the joint.

What Treatments are Available?

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy to help correct posture problems and relieve pressure on the affected area are the first line of defense.


Anti-inflammatory medications may also be added to the treatment plan to reduce irritation and control pain.

Ultrasound Guided Injections

Ultrasound guided injections can deliver steroids or nerve blocks directly to the affected joints and nerves to help relieve pain.

Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation uses heat to disrupt the affected nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain and can result in relief for six months to a year for many patients.

Why Seek an Evaluation for Facet Syndrome?

Facet Syndrome presents the same symptoms as many other spinal conditions, so an accurate diagnosis is crucial to creating a treatment plan that gives you maximum relief. Contact us today to find out what treatment options are available for you.