Facet Syndrome

Facet syndrome is known by a variety of terms. Osteoarthritis is a familiar term for the problem. Also known as facet joint syndrome, this condition causes severe pain in affected patients.

The spine’s vertebrae each consist of three parts. In the front, there is a large disc. In the back are two facet joints. These joints allow the body to twist and bend, and they provide stability. Inside, they sport a synovial lining and have lubricating fluid.

Although facet syndrome is not curable, there are treatments available. Contact a spinal doctor if you have any facet syndrome symptoms.


Aging is the primary cause of facet syndrome, and the alternative is worse than the condition. There is also a genetic component. A patient may not realize they have osteoarthritis until a sudden move creates pain. Facet syndrome is also triggered by other events, including falls and motor vehicle accidents.

Whiplash, an injury often occurring in rear-end collisions, may cause facet syndrome. Those working jobs involving a lot of repetitive motion are at risk. Herniated discs are another culprit. Anyone who has experienced a back or spine injury is especially vulnerable to developing facet syndrome.


Facet syndrome symptoms vary depending on the affected area. Pain is often general, rather than specific to a certain part of the back. Patients may feel tenderness around the facet joint in addition to pain. The commonly affected parts of the body include:

  • Neck – headaches, difficulty turning the head. Affected people may need to turn their entire body to look in one direction or the other. Nerve pain and weakness may occur in the arms, hands and shoulders.
  • Lower back – difficulty rising from a sitting position or straighten the back. Some people develop a hunched stance. Nerve pain may affect the feet, legs, and buttocks.

Pain is frequently most intense at night, and patients suffer not only from the pain but from lack of sleep. Muscle spasms may occur. Some patients may believe they have fibromyalgia, as symptoms are similar. Receiving a definite diagnosis for any sort of back pain is crucial.


Diagnosis of facet syndrome is done via physical examination, along with X-rays and/or magnetic resonance imaging. A bone scan may indicate inflamed facet joints.

To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may inject a nerve block into the joint. This facet injection should temporarily stop pain in the affected joint. The patient’s pain level is evaluated prior to and after receiving the block.

Treatment Options

For some patients, over-the-counter pain medication, topical and oral, suffices to limit facet syndrome pain. If the individual experiences muscle spasms, muscle relaxants are prescribed. Physical therapy provides patients with exercises to strengthen the back. Steroid injections, consisting of a corticosteroid along with an analgesic, can provide significant, long-term relief.

If more conservative treatments do not work, radiofrequency ablation may help. This procedure destroys the affected joint capsule’s small nerves. However, eventual nerve regrowth is possible. In the worst-case scenario, spinal fusion surgery is recommended.

Contact a Surgeon

If you suspect you have facet syndrome or are suffering from any type of back pain, contact a surgeon as soon as possible.