Facet Syndrome

Facet joints refer to a pair of spinal joints that enable your back to be flexible in order for you to twist and bend. Nerves forming part of the nervous system leave the spine through these joints and connect to other sections of your body. In optimum condition, these joints have cartilage that permits the vertebral column to move smoothly with no friction. The joints have a lubricating fluid called synovial to minimize friction that may result in wear and tear. The facet syndrome refers to a condition whereby these joints become irritated, inflamed and swollen, producing pain. Another term for the condition is osteoarthritis. If you think you have facet syndrome call us right away: Sterling Heights Chiropractors

Causes of Facet Syndrome

There is a combination of factors that cause the situation: injury, exertion on the joints and aging.

Exertion on the joints is due to degeneration (from normal aging) of spinal intervertebral discs, which results in the discs being worn out and eventually collapsing. This will narrow intervertebral space, altering the way the joints are arranged.

When this occurs, the articular surface of the cartilage of the joints will experience a lot of pressure. Excess force on this surface of the cartilage will damage it. If the situation gets worse, the cartilage and synovial fluid that lubricates the joints is destroyed, resulting in bone grinding against bone.

There will be an accumulation of bone spurs along the joints, which will take up the foramen space and apply pressure on nerve roots resulting in pain sensation. If the situation is not checked, there will be an extension of bone spurs inside the spine canal leading to spinal stenosis.

Other causes of this syndrome include: Obesity, malnutrition, smoking, lack of physical exercises, injury from automobile accident sports or a fall and Spondylolisthesis.


A person affected by this syndrome will find it difficult to twist or bend their spine. If it is located in your neck (cervical spine) you will be forced to turn your whole body in order to look right or left.

Having the syndrome in your lower back (lumbar spine) will make it hard for you to rise up from your chair or straighten your back.

Depending on the affected nerves, muscle weakness, pain and numbness resulting from this syndrome will be felt on various body sections. You will experience pain in your hands, arms, neck and shoulders if nerves of the cervical spine are affected. If the syndrome affects the lumbar spine, the pain will be felt in the feet, legs and buttocks.


a) X-ray and CT scan

The diagnosis of this syndrome starts with a complete body examination and analysis of your medical history.

Diagnostic tests such as X-ray and CT scan will be recommended by your physician.
An X-ray will reveal any abnormalities that may be present in your spine while a CT scan will show extra features concerning the condition of these spinal joints. To determine if the joints are swollen a bone scan is carried out.

b) Fluoroscope

This is a unique camera that allows your physician to accurately use a needle to inject anesthetic into the affected joint. In case the pain disappears, your physician will be sure that it is emanating from these joints.


a) Conventional treatment

Physiotherapy is one of the methods. After diagnosis yields positive results, your physician will recommend physiotherapy to treat the symptoms. This is a rehabilitation program that will relieve pain and inflammation, resulting into increased strength and mobility which will help you carry out your daily chores without any difficulty. Physiotherapy involves the use of ice, muscle stretching and massage. Ice will limit the flow of blood to the inflamed joint and hence reduce swelling. Muscle stretching and massage will ensure you quickly recover your joint mobility, strength and flexibility. Electro-stimulation and ultrasound are utilized to take care of muscle spasms.

Spinal injection is another possible option. To relieve inflammation and pain, a cortisone dose is injected using a fluoroscope. Cortisone is a potent anti-inflammatory medicine. It’s effective for several months

b) Surgical treatment

This is the last resort if the conventional techniques of treatment mentioned above fail. Facet joint surgery also called arthrodesis involves joining the two joints. To fuse two facet joints, your physician will insert a number of metallic screws across the joints. Bone graft is placed around the two joints to enable complete fusion. This graft bone is generally sourced from the pelvic bone that is beside your SI joint.


The facet joint syndrome is a key health care problem whose diagnosis and treatment represents a major economic and social burden. Frequent misdiagnosis makes it to be an inappropriately treated pathology. Patients should embrace radiology because it’s an important aspect in the management of the condition. A radiologist should therefore play an active role in alleviating the condition.