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Our expert team at The Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine focuses on diagnosing and treating all types of spinal issues, including those related to injury, congenital issues, and aging.

Led by top-level spinal specialists Steve Paragioudakis, MD, and Marc Menkowitz, MD, we provide the best possible care in a warm and welcoming environment for individuals in and around Shrewsbury, Toms River, and Edison, New Jersey.

Here’s what our specialists want you to know about facet joint syndrome.

Understanding the role of facet joints

Your spine includes 24 individual bones (vertebrae) that stack one on top of the other to form the backbone. At the back of each vertebral body, from your upper neck at about the level of your lower jaw to your lower back, there is a pair of small facet joints, one per side.

These joints help stabilize your spine while allowing you to bend forward and backward and twist from side to side. Like those in your knees, each of these hinge-type synovial joints is surrounded by connective tissue called a joint capsule that produces fluid to nourish and lubricate the joint.

Cartilage covers the surfaces where bone meets bone within each facet joint to ensure smooth, frictionless movement. Nerve roots also pass through these joints before branching out from the spinal cord to your arms, legs, and other areas of the body.

What is facet joint syndrome?

Facet joint syndrome occurs when the connective tissue and/or cartilage in the joint loses its normal function. This may be due to injury, including overuse during sports or work activities, or wear and tear associated with aging. Osteoarthritis is a common underlying cause of facet joint syndrome. Persistently poor posture can also lead to facet joint syndrome due to the strain it places on muscles, tendons, and joints.

The condition can develop anywhere along your backbone but is most common in the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back). Inflammation and swelling of the facet joint tissue  can also compress nerves traveling through the joint, leading to a condition known as facet hypertrophy.

What are the symptoms of facet joint syndrome?

Symptoms of facet joint syndrome vary according to the number and location of affected joints. Common symptoms of lumbar facet joint syndrome include:

  • A dull aching pain in the lower back
  • Lower back stiffness that may be worse in the morning or after sitting for long periods
  • Worsening pain with heavy exercise
  • Pain that increases with bending backward and improves with bending forward at the waist
  • Sharp, shooting pains into the buttocks, legs, and feet  

Note that pain related to lumbar facet joint syndrome may also be felt as an aching discomfort in the lower abdomen or pelvic region.

Facet joint syndrome affecting the cervical spine may cause:

  • Neck pain and stiffness that makes it hard to turn your head
  • Upper back pain that may travel into the shoulders
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain in the arms and hands
  • Headaches that are typically located at the back of the head
  • Swelling and tenderness at the site of the involved facet joint

Note that other back disorders such as degenerative disc disease may occur alongside facet joint syndrome, and the symptoms are often quite similar. 

Our specialists may recommend a combination of treatments to address your condition, generally beginning with conservative therapies and advancing if necessary to minimally invasive spine surgery. Our goal is always to safely and effectively relieve your pain while restoring your mobility.    

For an accurate diagnosis and the most advanced care available for facet joint syndrome, schedule a visit at The Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine today. 

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