Facet joint syndrome

Facet joint syndrome happens when your spine’s facet joints become worn out. These joints link the spine, enabling movement and flexibility while keeping the spine rigid enough to protect the spinal cord. The end of each joint has a lining of cartilage and joint fluid so they can move smoothly against each other. Because these joints are in constant motion, they undergo significant wear and tear.

The natural aging process can cause the cartilage to wear away, causing joint inflammation and stiffness. This condition can be painful and debilitating, even grocery shopping, cooking a meal or working out in the yard can become too difficult to do anymore. Learning more about facet joint syndrome, and the treatment options available, can offer you the best chance of finding pain relief that can get you back to the life you’ve been missing.

Symptoms of facet joint syndrome

Also known as facet joint disease, facet joint syndrome can affect the spine at any point top to bottom. However, it is more common for the joints to wear out in the neck and lower back because these regions require the most movement while supporting the most weight. Visit our facet disease and facet arthritis pages for more details.

Although everyone has to deal with some degree of degeneration of the facet joints, there are other causes that contribute to facet joint syndrome. Trauma, fractures, repetitive movements and sports injuries can irritate the joints and protective cartilage, causing them to breakdown. Lifestyle factors like smoking and obesity can also accelerate joint degeneration.

In addition to local pain symptoms can include:

  • Joint inflammation
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Decreased spinal mobility and flexibility
  • Radiating symptoms to the upper or lower body, often caused by an arthritic bone spur

How to treat these symptoms

If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms for any length of time, talk with your health care provider. Your physician will be able to use methods like an MRI or a diagnostic facet injection to determine if facet joint syndrome is the cause of your back pain. Upon diagnosis, most doctors recommend an initial course of conservative treatment including over-the-counter medicine, rest and physical therapy.

Surgery will usually be considered if these methods don’t bring relief, usually after a period of weeks or months. The skilled surgeons at Laser Spine Institute perform minimally invasive surgery that uses smaller incisions and offers a shorter recovery time^ compared to traditional open back surgery.

To find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our outpatient procedures, reach out to our Care Team today for a no-cost MRI review.*