Home > Causes of Back Pain > Facet Syndrome or Facet Joint Disease

Facet Syndrome or Facet Joint Disease

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 15 Jun 2010 |
Facet Syndrome Or Facet Joint Disease

Facet syndrome (also known as facet joint syndrome, facet joint disease or posterior joint dysfunction) is a form of back pain centred on the facet joints in the back. This can happen because of an injury, or in diseases like arthritis.

What Are Facet Joints?

The facet or zygapophyseal joints are the connections between the vertebrae (bone in the spine). There are two between each vertebra, and these link the vertebrae, and help support the weight of the body and keep the spine flexible, but also stop the spine from bending too far. These are known as synovial joints – the joint is lined with cartilage, and there is a capsule enclosing the joint, filled with synovial fluid.

What Causes Facet Syndrome?

Facet syndrome in osteoarthritis can be caused by the development of bony spurs on the facet joint that press on the nerves. Other causes include disc damage caused by injury, degenerative disc disease or extra wear (this can happen in people who overextend their backs a lot, such as gymnasts), making the bones more likely to rub together. Whiplash injury, for example after a car accident, can also lead to facet syndrome. Being overweight or obese can make facet syndrome worse.

Facet syndrome causes pain and stiffness in the back, including difficulties in looking or turning to the left or right, or muscle spasms causing sudden pain. Pain may be worse on twisting, straightening up or bending backwards. Facet syndrome in the lower back can cause a deep, dull ache that moves down into the buttock or thigh as well. Facet syndrome in the neck or the cervical vertebrae (the bones at the top of the spine) can cause neck and shoulder pain and headaches.

How Is Facet Syndrome Diagnosed?

Facet syndrome is diagnosed through medical history, and imaging including X-rays, CT (computed tomography) scans and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, which will show the damage and/or inflammation around the facet joints. Diagnosis may be confirmed by an aesthetic injection into the facet joint – if this stops the pain, then it is facet syndrome.

How Is Facet Syndrome Treated?

The simplest treatment is taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen to reduce the pain and swelling. These may be over-the-counter or prescription strength. If these are not effective, the doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers or muscle relaxants.

Doctors can reduce the inflammation and pain in facet syndrome by injecting anti-inflammatories and local anaesthetics into the joints. If this pain relief does not last long, radiofrequency (RF) rhizotomy or neurotomy may help. This uses radio waves to shock and inactivate the nerves that carry the pain signals. Radiofrequency rhizotomy takes two to three weeks to take effect, and should last for nine months to three years, until the nerve regrows. In some patients, the pain may be worse for the first few weeks.

Exercises to improve back strength and flexibility can help with pain and stiffness, and can improve flexibility. Strengthening the core muscles will also take the strain off the spine.

Spinal fusion may help in severe cases, but this is a last resort. Researchers are carrying out studies to see if it would be possible to replace facet joints.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • BackPainExpert
    Re: Back Pain and Hernia
    Janet - Your Question:I've had hernia surgery 4th of December 2017, they called it a Ventral hernia. Well I've been dealing wit horrible…
    11 December 2017
  • Janet
    Re: Back Pain and Hernia
    I've had hernia surgery 4th of December 2017, they called it a Ventral hernia. Well I've been dealing wit horrible lower back pain that has…
    10 December 2017
  • Harry
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    Dear can anybody tell me what happens with me When i bend forward to push flush of washroom then i experience some force pull me forward and after…
    6 December 2017
  • motorman
    Re: Tilted Pelvis
    I have now been suffering realy bad diabolical pain in my right hip & down my leg & i have used just about all the gels that are available, plus lots…
    13 November 2017
  • Grumpygran
    Re: Cauda Equina Syndrome
    I have small herniatios of l4 l5 with probable compression of Cauda Equina . This was an unexpected finding as the MRI was done because of…
    29 September 2017
  • Jsisjd
    Re: A Spinal Tap Caused My Back Pain
    I had suicidal back pain and leg pain for 7-8 months after a spinal tap until the pain slowly subsided. Today 1 year later, i…
    1 September 2017
    Re: Who is at Risk of Developmental Back Pain?
    Just want to let you all know that I find the medical info on ligaments and back problems to be very informative…
    12 August 2017
  • Kat
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    My ll yr old girl has bulging disk tear always in pain took her a and e. She now seeing back surgeon in a week not half a year how can this pain…
    25 June 2017
  • eadndel drinkh20
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    Arch your back by pushing off floor with arms straight with hips and legs flat on floor repeat 6 times 3 to 4 time a day. This arch will hurt but…
    8 June 2017
  • Ahmed
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    I also have same problem plz suggest me to which doctor I should refer neurologist or orthopedic I m unable to stand plz suggest me
    6 June 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the BackPainExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.