Where is facet joint pain felt?

Facet joint pain is generally felt in the spine and it can occur at any level, from the neck to the lower back. Other issues can be experienced in addition to pain, including stiffness and limited range of motion in the neck or back. Sometimes, the pain can radiate to other areas of the body, including the top of the shoulders and arms as well as the hips, buttocks and legs. Traveling symptoms are usually the result of spinal nerve compression, which can be caused by swollen joints or bone spurs.

Overview of facet joints

Facet joints link the vertebrae in the spinal column with each vertebra typically having two pairs, one upward and one downward facing. These joints are coated with a layer of cartilage and fluid that allows the two connecting bones to glide past each other when the spine moves. The facet joints allow for bending and twisting while still providing the stability necessary to support the weight of the body on a daily basis.

How facet disease occurs

Facet disease is a form of osteoarthritis and occurs when the cartilage in the joints dries out and becomes brittle due to aging, leading it to wear out. This is an irreversible condition, because joint cartilage cannot regenerate. When the thin layer of cartilage wears away, patients often experience pain and inflammation, including problems such as:

  • Recurring episodes of acute pain
  • Reduced muscle flexibility around the spine
  • Tenderness near the affected joints
  • Increased discomfort when leaning backward
  • Creaking or popping sensations in the joints

Treatment options

Facet disease is usually diagnosed with a physical examination, review of medical history and diagnostic tests like an X-ray or MRI. If the pain you are feeling is related to the spinal facet joints, your doctor will typically recommend conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication, moderate exercise, periods of rest, heating pads and ice packs.

If a full course of conservative treatment has been attempted and you are considering surgery because you have not achieved the pain relief you require for normal activity, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our board-certified surgeons+ perform minimally invasive spine surgery on an outpatient basis that has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from neck or back pain.

Our caring and dedicated staff will be happy to review your MRI or CT scan at no cost* to help you find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.