Lumbar facet joints

Lumbar facet joints provide stability and flexibility to the vertebrae in the lower back. These interlocking joints are surrounded by a thick lubricating fluid. The joints are also coated in cartilage to lessen friction and wear on the bones. The synovial fluid and cartilage work together to allow a smooth range of motion.

Issues with the lumbar facet joints can cause debilitating pain that can disrupt your life, taking you away from loved ones and favorite activities. Learning about the issues that can affect these joints can help you get treatment that can get you back to a full, active life.

Conditions that affect the lumbar facet joints

The lumbar spine consists of five vertebrae, numbered L1 to L5, which need to be strong and stable to support the upper body and protect the spinal cord. Lumbar facet joints exist in pairs — one set facing upward and one set facing downward — to connect adjacent vertebrae. However, because the lumbar spine supports so much weight while being so flexible, it is particularly prone to damage and deterioration. Conditions like facet disease and osteoarthritis can interfere with regular function in lumbar facet joints, causing lower back pain.

When working correctly, the L1-L5 facet joints in the lower spine work with the spinal discs to absorb shock and allow for smooth motion. But with age, the joint fluid and cartilage can dry out and become brittle. Years of everyday motion, injuries and carrying extra weight can wear out the joint linings, causing painful inflammation usually diagnosed as either osteoarthritis or lumbar facet disease. Symptoms of problematic lumbar facet joints include:

  • Local back pain
  • Trouble walking or standing up straight
  • Back stiffness and soreness causing a loss of flexibility
  • Sciatica, which is compression of the sciatic nerve that can cause tingling, numbness and weakness in the lower body

Treatment options

If you have been diagnosed with a condition related to any of the lumbar facet joints, your primary care physician will usually prescribe conservative options to manage symptoms. Physical therapy, pain medication and heating pads can be effective for many patients in relieving pain and regaining mobility. When weeks or months go by without bringing an acceptable level of relief, you may want to talk to your doctor about surgical options.

The prospect of traditional open back surgery can seem as difficult as the pain it is trying to treat, requiring large muscle-tearing incisions that lead to a long, often painful recovery period. Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, offering pain relief with procedures that require a dramatically shorter recovery time^ than traditional open back surgery. Contact us for more information on a no-cost MRI review* that can help determine if you’re a potential candidate.