Facet Joint Pain
Facet joints are small joints that connect the vertebrae of the spine. Each space between vertebrae has two facet joints – one on each side. They provide support and cushioning between the vertebra, reducing friction between them.
They also link the vertebra together, giving the spine mobility, stability, and flexibility. Your spine can twist and bend because of your facet joints.
Like other joints, the ends of facet joints have a layer of cartilage that cushions the bones. The cartilage can break down and cause painful inflammation. Sometimes that inflammation can put pressure on nearby spinal nerves.
Symptoms of Facet Joint Breakdown
If a facet joint breaks down and can no longer provide adequate cushioning between the vertebrae, it can lead to a slipped disc, bone spurs, inflammation, and nerve pain.
Pain due to facet joint breakdown depends on the affected location in the spine.
If the joints of the neck (cervical) are affected, the pain may be described as:
- Making a grinding sound when moving the neck
- Muscle spasms in the shoulders and neck
- Pain and stiffness that worsens with activity
- Radiating pain from the neck to the shoulders or between the shoulder blades
- Worse in the morning and end of the day
- Traveling down the arms
If the joints of the lower back (lumbar) are affected, the pain may be described as:
- Centered in the lower back
- Radiating to the buttocks and thighs
- Tingling in the back and limbs
- Worse after resting or sleeping
- Worse when bending backward or to the side
Facet joint damage can also put pressure on nearby nerves, causing symptoms like:
- Burning or tingling pain
- Loss of balance
- Trouble walking
Facet joint pain can be caused by:
- Degenerated discs
- Inflammatory conditions
- Poor body mechanics
- Spinal stenosis
To diagnose the source of your pain, you may have:
- A physical exam.
- Blood tests to look for signs of inflammation.
- Imaging tests, like X-ray, MRI, or CT scan to look for signs of an injury or changes to the joints.
- An injection of a numbing agent into the joint to help determine the location of the pain.
Treatment depends on individual factors, like how intense your pain is and how it affects your life. If at-home treatments and lifestyle changes don’t relieve the pain, medical intervention may be necessary.
- Cold/heat – A cold pack can relieve the pain of a flare-up. Heat therapy can be used to relax muscles and improve circulation throughout the day.
- Pain relievers – Prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) may reduce pain and inflammation.
- Activity – Gentle activity can prevent stiffness, strengthen muscles, and improve flexibility.
- Physical therapy – A physical therapist can lead you through exercise, strengthening, and stretching to correct posture, improve spine stability, and heal surrounding tissues.
- Injections – Injections can provide pain relief by numbing the nerves near the facet joint or decreasing inflammation.
- Radiofrequency ablation – Ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that uses radio waves to disable the nerve fibers that deliver pain signals from the facet joint to the brain.
- Surgery – Your doctor may recommend surgery if non-surgical methods can’t help a severely damaged facet, you have multiple spinal issues like stenosis or herniated discs, or in other circumstances.
If you think you may have Facet Joint Pain, schedule a consultation appointment today!