Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet Joint Syndrome Overview

The facet joints are the joints that move the spine. Facet joint syndrome occurs when arthritis damages joint bone and cartilage. Early facet joint syndrome treatment reduces symptoms and slows down or stops disease progression. An appointment with a Carolina Orthopaedic and Neurosurgical Associates’ (CONA) spine specialist should be made as soon as symptoms present.

Facet joint syndrome is a condition that acts like arthritis in the spine and can be a significant source of back and neck pain. This is caused by degenerative changes to the joints between the vertebrae; the cartilage in the joint can break down and become inflamed, triggering pain in the nerve endings.

Symptoms & Causes

Facet joint syndrome symptoms include:

  • Extremity numbness, tingling, weakness
  • Pain (especially with movement)
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness

Common facet joint syndrome causes include:

  • Age
  • Injury
  • Overuse
  • Obesity
  • Poor Posture

Changes in the facet joints can begin with the deterioration of a disc in the vertebrae. As the weight of the body shifts through movement, the cartilage breaks down, the joint space narrows, and the bones rub together.

Common Treatments:

Nonsurgical treatment options are very effective when an early diagnosis is made. After a thorough evaluation, a CONA shoulder specialist may recommend:

  • Activity modification
  • A brace or soft collar
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
  • Physical therapy
  • Weight loss

Minimally invasive spine surgery may be recommended for severe facet joint syndrome cases. Arthritic bone and removed are removed and pinched nerve roots are decompressed during the procedure. Patients recover quickly and live symptom-free lives shortly after surgery.

Recovery and Prevention

Regular stretching, strengthening, and cardio exercise may slow the degeneration process and reduce stress on the facet joints by improving the overall strength and condition of the back and lowering inflammation in the body. 

Working with a physical therapist will help patients with a routine exercise program they may continue at home after therapy comes to an end. Although one may be fully “recovered” from this condition, they should continue these exercises to maintain health, strength, and range of motion. 


A CONA specialist:

  • Obtains a complete medical history, which includes medical conditions and previous injuries
  • Performs thorough neurosurgical and physical examinations
  • Orders and analyzes x-rays and an MRI
  • Makes an accurate diagnosis

Another way doctors can diagnose facet joint syndrome is to inject an anesthetic and anti-inflammatory into the joint; if there is immediate relief of pain after this injection, it confirms facet joint syndrome. 

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