Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet joint syndrome is a disorder that arises when the facet joints break down, causing pain. It generally develops over time, although it can occur quickly following an injury.

What is Facet Joint Syndrome?

  • Each vertebra has two sets of facet joints, which allow motion of the spine and helps with bending and twisting. The joints are located on the left and right side of the back of the vertebrae. One set faces upward for bending forward, and the other downward, for bending backward.
  • Spinal conditions and sudden trauma may cause the cartilage between the joints to wear down. This cartilage acts like a capsule, or coating around the joints which provides fluid for lubrication. If the cartilage wears away, pain may be experienced.
  • Sufferers from facet joint syndrome often complain that they cannot move their body well, and depending on the location of the joint degeneration, may not be able to even move their head without experiencing pain.
  • Facet joint syndrome may affect different sections of the spine. If the cervical (neck) area is affected, pain may occur in the neck, shoulders, and middle back area. On the other hand, lumbar facet joint syndrome may cause pain in the lower back, buttocks, and thigh areas.

What causes it?

Facet joint syndrome can either develop quickly from an injury, or develop over time. Sometimes the complication may develop from other spinal conditions, like degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc. Car accidents or a sports injury may cause sudden trauma to the joints, and may cause the cartilage to stress and quickly degenerate. Lastly, aging and everyday activity may wear and tear the joints.

Once cartilage loss occurs in the facet joints, the two connective bones may rub together. Irritation may occur, and in order for the bones to stabilize, bone spurs may grow, which can increase pain by possibly pinching spinal nerves. The loss of cartilage may also cause the vertebrae to lose its range of motion, causing pain upon movement and limiting daily activities.

There are some risk factors for developing facet joint syndrome, which include: repeated poor posture, smoking, excess alcohol intake, obesity, participating in repetitive and strenuous activity, and aging 65 years or older.

How do you treat it?

In order to treat facet joint syndrome, some diagnostic procedures may be required first. This is because some symptoms from facet joint syndrome may mimic other spinal conditions. The best diagnostic procedure used is a facet joint injection, which injects anesthetic into the suspected affected joint to see if any relief is experienced. If relief is experienced, then facet joint syndrome is diagnosed.

After a proper diagnosis is confirmed, treating facet joint syndrome primarily relies on conservative non-surgical methods. Common treatments include: small periods of rest, hot and cold applications, pain and anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and scaling back daily activity.

Longer-term relief may be recommended through steroidal injections, which blocks pain for a few weeks and up to a few months. However, if pain is severe, or nerve damage may be feared, then surgical procedures may be recommended.

The more common surgical procedure that treats facet joint syndrome is facet rhizotomy. More complicated cases, including cases that have caused other spinal conditions like spinal stenosis, may require spinal fusion surgery.

If interested in surgery, we offer spinal fusion performed by our world-renowned neurosurgeons in beautiful Cayman Islands. We can review your MRI scan for free. Please upload your imaging results here.