Facet Joint Syndrome

What Is a Facet Joint?

Facet joints, which may also be referred to as zygapophyseal or z-joints, are the joints that connect each of the vertebra that make up your spine. The facet joints support basic function and stabilization of the spine. Facets also help limit excessive motion to prevent damage to the spine. Each one is lined with cartilage and surrounded by a lubricating cap seal that allows vertebra to bend and twist while protecting the joints.

What Is Facet Joint Syndrome?

Facet joint syndrome occurs when facet joints are stressed or damaged. It can happen due to natural wear and tear as you age, be caused by degeneration of an intervertebral disc or may even stem from a serious back or neck injury.

The cartilage that covers the facet joint wears away when the joint is stressed, resulting in inflammation. As the cartilage is worn down the joints become swollen and stiff. This can eventually lead to a reduction in a person’s pain-free range of motion and cause bone spurs to form along the edges of the facet joint.




What Are Types of Pain Caused by Facet Joint Syndrome?

The pain that is experienced from this deterioration depends on which vertebra are affected by facet joint syndrome. If the joints are damaged at the top of the spine, also known as the cervical spine, pain will be felt in the neck, shoulders, upper back or middle back. Some patients may also experience headaches since the cervical spine supports the head.

If the pain is in the lower area of the spine, also known as the lumbar, the patient may experience pain in the lower back, buttocks and back of the thighs and legs.

How Should Facet Joint Syndrome Be Treated?

Facet joint syndrome should first be treated conservatively with rest, ice, heat, anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. If pain continues, patients should discuss facet joint blocks.

Facet joint blocks are injections of medication directly to the area near the nerves sending pain signals. Facet joint blocks are used to diagnose facet joint pain and to treat facet joint syndrome. More than one injection can be given to patients for long-lasting pain relief.

How Do Facet Joint Injections Help With Diagnosing Facet Joint Syndrome?

The nervous system is complicated, as is the management of chronic pain. Your orthopaedic doctor will want to accurately identify the root cause of your pain to treat the underlying issue instead of just masking the pain.

Facet joints are just one of the many possible reasons you could be experiencing back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain or various types of leg pain. Each vertebra in your back has two pairs of facet joints, meaning there are dozens of potential facet joints that could be causing your pain.

A knowledgeable orthopaedic specialist can use their decades of experience in the field of pain management to narrow down the potential problem-causing facet joints, but there still may be some uncertainty until detailed diagnostics or facet joint injections can be performed.

By administering facet joint injections and observing which injections provide relief from your chronic or acute pain, our doctors can pinpoint the specific facet joints that are causing problems.

What If Facet Joint Injections Don’t Work?

Facet joint injections are just one of many potential pain management and treatment options for facet joint syndrome. It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options with your orthopaedic and pain management doctor to learn about treatment alternatives if you’re not experiencing adequate pain reduction from facet joint injections.

If these non-surgical methods do not properly treat and reduce pain, surgical options can be considered, including a facet rhizotomy or bone fusion. How much bone fusion may limit your range of motion or flexibility depends largely on your range of motion before surgery, as well as how much pain from facet joint syndrome was preventing you from exercising a free range of motion.

The risk for reduced mobility following any kind of bone fusion surgery is one of the reasons many people seek out alternative treatments like the ones offered at Non-Surgical Orthopaedic’s Marietta and Carrollton offices.

Surgery can be hard on the body and require long recovery periods, which is why we encourage patients to consider the alternatives first. Non-surgical pain injections have proven to be effective for many patients. If you struggle with facet joint syndrome, contact Non-Surgical Orthopaedic today at 770-421-1420.