Facet Joint Pain and Facet Joint Syndrome
Facet joints are located at the rear of the spine, all the way down the length of the spine. These joints work in tandem with the intervertebral discs and perform the double function of allowing movement of the spine and providing stability.
As the body ages, the intervertebral discs will lose height, forcing the architecture of the facet joints to change. This can lead to inflammation of the joints, arthritic or degenerative change, which can lead to back pain.
Symptoms of Facet Joint Pain and Facet Joint Syndrome
The most common symptoms of facet joint syndrome are stiffness after sitting for a long period of time or stiffness in the morning. The reason for this stiffness is that an inflamed or arthritic joint will “spot weld” itself together when it doesn’t move for a significant amount of time.
Once movement of the joint has been attempted, the “spot welds” will be broken and the joint can warm itself up by re-lubricating itself, helping the affected part of the spine to become more mobile. Another symptom of facet joint syndrome can be pain in the buttock, groin, or down the leg, as the inflammation of the joint could affect the nerves that leave the spinal cord and run through the lower part of the body.
Causes of Facet Joint Pain and Facet Joint Syndrome
Many people who suffer from facet joint syndrome are older, as facet joint pain is not unusual as we age. In some cases, facet joint pain can be caused by an injury made by sudden excessive movement.
Diagnosis of Facet Joint Pain and Facet Joint Syndrome
In most cases, your doctor should be able to diagnosis facet joint syndrome based on your medical history and the symptoms presented. If there is any doubt, the presence of the syndrome can be confirmed through a CT scan or an MRI.
Treatment of Facet Joint Pain and Facet Joint Syndrome
Because the treatment of facet joint syndrome is aimed at fighting the inflammation of the facet joints, your doctor may opt to begin with conservative treatment such as physical therapy, including chiropractic, physiotherapy, or osteopathy.
The goal of these types of treatments is to improve the range of movement, improve your posture, and to reduce the symptoms of the syndrome through better mobility and control. A heat pack can be affective to help relieve back pain and any muscle spasms that are associated with the syndrome. Your doctor may also proscribe anti-inflammatory medication.
If a combination of this treatment doesn’t work over a period of several months or for more severe cases, your doctor may suggest more aggressive treatment, including injecting hydrocortisone into the joints to relieve inflammation, which can then allow physical therapy for longer periods.
In those cases where the pain continues, your doctor may suggest a procedure that deadens the nerves in the facet joints, which can permanently reduce the pain but will not correct the underlying problem.
Prevention of Facet Joint Pain and Facet Joint Syndrome
The best ways to avoid facet joint syndrome are to maintain good posture and to stay fit. Sitting for long periods of time forces the lumbar spine, or the lower back, to be flexed, this can eventually lead to disc degeneration and a meeting of the facet joints, which are then forced to bear weight, which they are not intended to do. If you must sit for long periods of time, using a lumbar support can help maintain good posture and if you must drive for long periods, be sure to take plenty of breaks.