The facet joints help support weight-bearing and control movement between the vertebrae of the spine.
There are two joints – one at each side – on the back of each spinal segment, and they work together with the discs to form a functional unit. They provide about 20 percent of the twisting stability in the low back. Each facet joint is positioned at each level of the spine to provide the needed support especially with rotation. Facet joints also prevent each vertebra from slipping over the one below. A small capsule surrounds each facet joint providing a nourishing lubricant for the joint.
Facet Joint Syndrome occurs when the facet joints become stressed and damaged. This damage can occur from everyday wear and tear, injury to the back or neck or because of degeneration of an intervertebral disc.
Pain from facet joint syndrome differs depending on which region of the spine is damaged. If the upper (cervical) spine is affected, pain may be felt in the neck, shoulders and upper or middle back. The sufferer may also experience headaches. If the lower (lumbar) spine is affected, pain may be felt in the lower back, buttocks and back of the thigh.
Diagnosis of Facet Joint pain is made after a complete medical history and physical examination have been undertaken.
The initial treatment for facet joint pain is usually conservative, treated with rest, ice, heat, physical therapy, chiropractic care and or anti-inflammatory medication. If the pain persists, rhizotomy, a procedure to deaden the small nerves around the joint may be performed. This is generally done after an injection has confirmed that the pain is coming from the facet joint.
In some persistent cases, other surgery such as a Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF) may be considered.