• London Spinal Partnership

What is Facet joint syndrome

Facet joint syndrome is caused as a result of degenerative change to your spine. The facet joint sits between the 33-individual vertebrate within your spine. The facet joint is responsible for limiting movement in the spine and providing mobility and strength. Facet joints are lined with fluid and are synovial joints that sit in synovial fluid. Joint capsules protect them, these capsules work and slide together providing mobility in your back. Degenerative changes to the back can result in the joint becoming strained from wear and tear. This can also result in the joint capsule thinning and the cartilage inside becoming hard and irregular. The pain that patients with facet joint syndrome is similar to the pain that someone with arthritis will experience, as the joints become inflamed and irritated where they are unable to move together smoothly. Facet joint syndrome can also be triggered injury or pressure on the spinal cord.

Symptoms of facet joint syndrome do include:

  • Loss of spinal flexibility

  • Discomfort when leaning backwards, forwards or sideways

  • Radiation of pain into other parts of the spinal cord, neck, shoulders, arms, legs and fingers. Tenderness of the back

  • Aching of the back

  • Pain when standing or sitting for a period of time

  • Back spasms

Although the main cause of facet joint syndrome is degeneration, which is the nature of weakening bones and joints as we get older, it can also be causes by other factors. Obesity, bad posture and repetitive activity such as long periods of sitting can also aggravate the facet joint. It usually affects both men and women over the age 40, as this is when bone degeneration typically starts.

If a patient is experiencing the symptoms of facet joint syndrome then it is important that you speak to a medical professional about it. It is likely that you will go through a number of different physical assessments including testing your reflexes, muscle tone and sensory function. Imaging is also a good way of determining if you have facet joint syndrome. MRI and CT scans can also be used to look at the spinal cord and pin point the exact location for the affected joint.

Facet joint syndrome can be treated in different ways and not all mean that you have to under go surgery.

A simple solution to reduce your symptoms in mild cases is self-care. For example, correcting your posture, regular exercise and being mindful of the back throughout the day. Having regular physiotherapy can also help to improve the pain as they are specially trained to understand how stretching different parts of the body can strengthen and ease painful areas using exercises and teaching you techniques to help yourself at home.

For some patients, anti-inflammatory medication or cream is the best way to reduce pain, inflammation and muscle spasms in the back.

For a quick and effective pain relief, patients may have a steroid injection on a daily basis. By injecting a numbing agent in to the irritated joint, it can help to reduce swelling and pain that the patient is experiencing for days or in some cases years. A steroid injection can be repeated multiple as the pain return.

Radiofrequency ablation is another possible treatment that can be used to treat facet joint syndrome. During this procedure heat is put into the area of nerve tissue, that sends the pain signals to the brain, using an electrical current to burn the nerve ending. This is a minimally invasive procedure, that can help to reduce pain for people that have chronic pain from conditions like facet joint syndrome.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.


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