Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet Joint Syndrome

In the Studio Musculoskeletal blog this week we are going to be taking a look at one of the most common causes of back neck and spine pain. It is known as facet joint syndrome and is pain caused by injury to a facet joint. The syndrome is considered to be similar to arthritis that affects the spine. Facet joint syndrome is caused by the cartilage inside the joint breaking down and becoming inflamed which can trigger pain in the nerves close by. There are two different facet joints which are located on the left and right spinal segments. Facet joints exist to limit the movement and guide it in the right way for each spinal section. A healthy facet joint will comfortably slide allowing us a full range of motion whilst preventing us from twisting too far over.

Facet joint injury is most commonly seen in men and women aged 40-70 and is often seen in people who are prone to arthritis or have had a back injury in the past. As we age the cartilage in our joints wear down. Poor posture, repetitive movements or factors such as obesity can change the way that our joints align and can cause pain. 

What are the main symptoms that confirm you have a facet joint injury?

 Facet joint pain is usually only felt following an event that triggers its symptoms. It is extremely common for facet joint syndrome to occur days or weeks before pain being felt. Your body will try to compensate for the injury by putting more pressure on joints nearby which can lead to the pain appearing on the opposite side of the body. As an example, your facet joint may remain relatively pain-free until you bend your back in a certain way. 

 If you are experiencing neck, shoulder or arm pain that is most likely caused by the neck facet joints. If you experience pain in your lower back or thighs that is likely to be a back facet joint injury. Another sign that you may have a facet joint injury maybe when you can feel the joint being unable to move in the direction away from where it is locked. The pain should feel like a dull ache and if your joint is flexed backwards you may find it difficult to arch forward.

How is Facet Joint Injury Diagnosed?

To accurately diagnose a facet joint injury, you should visit your local expert physiotherapist who specialises in spinal physiotherapy. They will be able to confirm whether it is unstable, locked or stiff. MRIs, X-rays and CT scans may be used to identify if you have any fractures or arthritic changes.

Like other spinal conditions, facet pain is accurately diagnosed through an examination of your medical history and a physical exam. Your physiotherapist will consider all information such as problems sleeping, problems performing everyday tasks or your injury history. Tests such as being asked to stand in different positions, or your joints being felt for tenderness is common. 

How to treat a locked facet joint

 Your physiotherapist will detect which facet joint is locked and then unlock it. Unlocking a facet joint is generally a painless activity when performed by a skilled physiotherapist. Once the joint has been unlocked the next step is to commence strengthening and other exercises to regain full strength and range of motion.

Better quality of life can be achieved following facet joint syndrome by facilitating lifestyle changes, managing your back pain carefully and getting regular exercise. Self-care options such as being conscious to maintain good posture as often as possible or adjusting your daily sleeping, standing and sitting habits can have a big impact on your pain levels. However, one of the best ways to manage your pain is to lose as much weight as possible to reduce the pressure on your facet joints. 

Maintaining a steady exercise routine is extremely helpful for a painful facet joint and is a key factor in recovery. It is very important to have a trained physiotherapist help you to understand just how you should be lifting, walking and running during this time. It is crucial to strengthen and stretch your stomach, lower back and leg muscles.

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Regular stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular exercise can be key in slowing the degeneration of the joints and reducing stress. As always, your physiotherapist at Studio Musculoskeletal will do everything possible to guide you back to living as pain-free as possible using our state-of-the-art equipment and techniques. 



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