Ouch! What is Facet Syndrome?

Facet joint syndrome is the most common of all the recurrent, low back and neck problems, which can cause serious and disabling pain for many people. At the most basic level, facet joint syndrome is a pain in the joint between two vertebra, and it can occur anywhere in the spine.

The spinal facet joints are in constant motion; providing the spine with stability and flexibility needed for walking, running, bending, sitting, and twisting. When a facet joint is damaged, from deterioration, injury or repetitive trauma, it can become swollen, painful, and stiff.

What are the symptoms of facet syndrome?

Lower back pain, numbness in the legs and arms, headaches, migraines, neck pain, pain that fluctuates with the weather, tenderness in the spine and pain when twisting or bending the spine. When the acute lumbar or cervical facet joint inflammation is at its peak, the symptoms may closely imitate those of a herniated disc, a deep infection, a fracture, or a torn muscle of the spine.  Facet joint problem symptoms typically include unpredictable pain throughout the month/year and more discomfort while leaning backward then while leaning forward. Low back pain from the facet joints often radiates into the buttocks and down the back of the upper leg. The pain is rarely present in the front of the leg, and rarely radiates below the knee or into the foot, as pain from a disc herniation often does; similarly, cervical facet joint problems may radiate pain locally or into the shoulders or upper back, and rarely radiate in the front or down an arm or into the fingers as a herniated disc might. Lastly, most people will have tenderness over the inflamed facet joints along with some degree of loss in the spinal muscle flexibility (referred to as guarding).

Risk factors for facet syndrome include:

  • 50+ years of age
  • Excessive weight
  • Overuse due to sports or heavy labor
  • Whiplash injuries, or sleeping with a twisted neck
  • Loss of the normal spinal curve and abrupt jerk of the neck, twisting while lifting overhead, or trauma to the spine
  • Presence of disease such as gout, other types of arthritis or infections.
  • Sitting for prolonged period of time without getting up and moving / stretching

How do we treat facet syndrome?

Good posture is the key component of relieving facet joint syndrome symptoms. We examine how you carry yourself so that we can determine how you can improve the way you sit, stand, and move about. We also look for compensation patterns in other parts of your body, and aim to relieve the pressure on both your back and the surrounding muscles that are strained from working overtime.

Chronic musculoskeletal pain often arises from functional pathology (such as facet joint disorder) which then leads to structural inflammation and disease. Chiropractic spinal manipulation has been shown to be one of the most effective ways in treating people with facet joint pain which causes lower back pain.

By: Dr. Larissa Woolston DC, MA