Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet joint syndrome is a pattern of back pain, sometimes with buttock and leg pain, that is generated by a unique set of joints between each vertebra called the facet joints. The facet joints work to link the vertebrae directly above and below the intervertebral disc to form a working unit that lends stability and weight-bearing capacity while permitting flexibility and movement of the spine.

Facet joint syndrome occurs when the facet joints become stressed and damaged. This damage can occur from every day wear and tear, injury to the back or neck or because of degeneration of an intervertebral disc.  The cartilage that covers the stressed facet joints gradually wears away making the joints swollen and stiff. The vertebral bones rub directly against each other, which can lead to the growth of bone spurs along the edges of the facet joints.

Pain from facet joint syndrome differs depending on which region of the spine is damaged. If the cervical spine is affected, pain may be felt in the neck, shoulders, and upper or middle back. The person may also experience headaches.  If the lumbar spine is affected, pain may be felt in the lower back, buttocks or back of the thigh.

Facet joint syndrome is first treated conservatively with rest, ice, heat, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. In addition, facet joint injections may be administered not only to diagnose facet joint pain but also to treat it. If non-surgical methods fail to relieve pain, surgical intervention may be necessary.

This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent decision about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient. Always consult your doctor about your back problem or medical conditions. Life Spine does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.