Cervical facet joint syndrome overview

Cervical facet joint syndrome refers to pain or inflammation of the joints in the cervical (upper) spine. Facet joints link the vertebrae and lend flexibility to the entire spine, allowing for basic movement. The neck is one of the more common areas to have facet joint syndrome since it undergoes a lot of wear and tear from supporting the head and allowing for movement.

The symptoms of cervical facet joint syndrome can be extremely disruptive to normal life, making it difficult to engage in basic activities like preparing a meal or working in the yard. Learning more about this condition can make you a more empowered patient who is better able to work with their doctor to develop an effective treatment plan.

Diagnosing cervical facet joint syndrome

Patients who have facet joint syndrome in the neck may have difficulty rotating the head and can also experience neck pain and joint stiffness, as well as headaches and tenderness in the shoulders. These symptoms alone do not always indicate facet joint syndrome since a number of spinal conditions, including herniated discs, spinal stenosis and bulging discs can cause similar symptoms. A review of medical history, a thorough physical examination and diagnostics like an X-ray, MRI or laboratory tests are usually needed to distinguish facet joint syndrome from another condition.

Treatment

Upon diagnosis, doctors will usually first recommend a course of conservative treatment options for patients with cervical facet joint syndrome. Many patients are able to successfully manage pain and restore lost function through methods such as:

  • The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Physical therapy
  • Lifestyle changes like losing weight, improving posture or quitting smoking
  • Moderate exercise
  • Intermittent rest
  • Hot/cold therapy

Some patients may also choose to pursue alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy. It is important to keep your doctor informed of any alternative treatment options you choose to pursue.

If weeks or months of conservative and alternative treatments prove ineffective, your doctor or spine specialist may recommend surgery. At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open neck or back procedures. Our highly skilled surgeons use muscle-sparing techniques that lead to a shorter recovery time^ and less risk of complication compared to traditional spine surgery.

To find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our outpatient procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost MRI review.*