What is Facet Joint Syndrome?

Facet joints are located on the back of your spine, and they counterbalance the disks within your spine’s vertebrae. They help align the vertebrae and control the motion of your spine. As you grow older, these facet joints wear down; a condition called facet arthropathy or Eugene facet joint syndrome. You can also develop facet joint syndrome when arthritis attacks the facet joints in your spine. Treatment for this condition may include medications, joint injections, physical therapy, nerve blocks, and nerve ablations. Patients with chronic symptoms may require surgery to fuse the joint,

Symptoms of facet joint syndrome

Most people with facet joint degeneration experience back pain which worsens with standing, twisting, and bending backwards. Periods of inactivity or standing for long hours can also exacerbate pain. The pain usually originates from the low back directly over the spine and spreads to the buttocks. If pain diffuses from the neck, you can also feel it in the shoulders and the back of your skull. Although pain is a common symptom for facet joint syndrome, some people experience no pain until an event triggers the symptoms.

The pain for facet joint syndrome can also mimic a herniated disc, especially if bone spurs form and press on spinal nerves. Movements that take pressure off the joints, such as leaning forward, sitting, and changing positions, can alleviate the pain. Patients may either have chronic pain or periodic flare-ups.

What causes facet joint syndrome?

Most of the time, degeneration changes in the spine develop as you advance in age as the facet joints wear down. You can also develop this problem due to obesity as the extra weight causes the joints to wear down. Individuals whose occupations involve repetitive motion are also at risk of this problem. Poor posture and spine conditions that alter the alignment and movement of facet joints can also cause pain. Most facet joint changes begin with the deterioration of vertebral discs. These discs cushion the spine and also act as shock absorbers. The cartilage wears as the weight shifts to the facet joints, allowing the bones to rub against each other.

Facet joint syndrome can affect both men and women, but it is common among individuals between 40-70. People with arthritis are also at risk of facet joint syndrome, and so are those who have had a spinal injury.

Diagnosing facet joint syndrome

If you are experiencing low back pain that mimics facet joint syndrome, your doctor needs to establish whether facet joint syndrome is the cause of your pain. Facet pain can be similar to other spinal conditions, so accurate diagnosis is essential to rule out any other possible causes. Your doctor evaluates your medical history and considers information such as pain location and any injury history. Your doctor may ask you to stand or move in different positions as you point to areas of pain. Other tests such as CT, X-rays, and MRI can help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

If you have further questions about facet joint syndrome, consult with your Pacific Sports and Spine specialist.

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