n Spine - Facet Joint Syndrome - AOA Orthopedic Specialists

Facet Joint Syndrome

What it is

The facet joints are the connections between the bones of the spine. The nerve roots pass through these joints to go from the spinal cord to the arms, legs and other parts of the body.

These joints also allow the spine to bend and twist, and they keep the back from slipping too far forward or twisting without limits. Like the knee joint, they have cartilage to allow smooth movement where two bones meet. The joints are lined with the synovium and have lubricating joint fluid.

When these joints get swollen and painful because of injury or arthritis, it causes pain. If the affected joint is in the neck, it may cause headaches and difficulty moving the head. If it is in the back, it may cause pain in the lower back, buttocks or thighs.


Facet arthritis refers to the degeneration of cartilage in the Facet joints. Doctors describe facet joints as small, cartilage-lined points of contact where each individual vertebrae meets the one above and below it. They both enable the spine to flex during movement and also limit its range of motion.

Facet arthritis occurs when the cartilage surrounding the ends of the joint wear down and gradually diminish. This results in a growth of osteophytes (bone spurs) in the affected joint.

Facet arthritis mainly occurs due to physical trauma and/or poor posture. Other risk factors include; age, sex, weight, degenerative disc disease, and hereditary predispositions.

The symptoms of facet arthritis depend upon the number of the facets affected, the severity of their condition, and the involvement of the nerve root. Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the upper or lower back that radiates outward.
  • Localized neck pain or back pain after resting or sleeping.
  • Tingling in the back and limbs.

Physicians may use certain diagnostic testing to diagnose Facet Arthritis. These test include:

  • X-ray imaging;
  • MRI;

Fortunately, most cases of facet arthritis recover with simple non-surgical techniques, such as:

  • Pain Medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Injections
  • Physical therapy
  • and Fluoroscopy

Finally, a physician may suggest surgery for a long-standing case. Patients should discuss their treatment options with their doctor.

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