In as many as 45% of people with lower back pain, facet joint syndrome is to blame. If you experience lower back pain combined with inflexibility, you may have facet joint syndrome. The good news is that facet joint syndrome responds incredibly well to chiropractic manipulation. The human spine is made up of 66 unique facet joints, which creates many opportunities for back pain. Facet joints are the joints between the vertebrae that allow the spine to bend and flex; there are two joints that connect each vertebrae, allowing extension and flexion and also providing stability to the spine.
Facet joints have a cartilage lining that supports smooth movement between the bones they connect. If a facet joint is injured, or if the cushion of cartilage is compromised, the other facet joints in the spine may need to overcompensate, eventually leading to inflammation, stiffness, and back pain. Facet joint syndrome is also referred to as spinal osteoarthritis and is classified by pain in the facet joints. A degenerative disease, facet joint syndrome gradually wears down the joints in the spine, inhibiting motion and potentially impacting the nerves within the spine.
Because facet joints are constantly moving, the joints and the cartilage that cushions and supports them undergo a significant amount of pressure on a daily basis and may degenerate with age. Facet joint syndrome may be caused by degeneration, sustained pressure on the facet joints, and injury, but the most common causes of facet joint syndrome are simply stress, age, and wear. Facet joint syndrome may be exacerbated by sudden trauma or injury, a sedentary lifestyle, physical labor, or unnatural movement in the discs or vertebrae. Some conditions and habits increase the risk of facet joint syndrome, such as obesity, smoking, genetics, problems with posture, and a weakened immune system.
The most common symptom of facet joint syndrome is pain or tenderness near the affected joint. Symptoms vary, however, depending on the location of the joint in the spinal column. When the affected facet joint is in the lumbar spine, or the lower back, people may experience discomfort while leaning back, and the pain may radiate from the lower back into the hips, groin, buttocks, and hamstrings. Because the lumbar vertebrae bear most of the pressures on the back, lumbar facet joint syndrome is the most common type of facet joint syndrome.
In the thoracic spine, or the middle part of the back, facet joint syndrome is less common, as this part of the back undergoes less wear and tear on a daily basis. Rigidity of the thoracic spine is usually the primary cause of facet joint syndrome in this part of the back. Symptoms of thoracic facet joint pain include pain in the center of the spine, and pain that radiates out from the center of the spine to the shoulders. Cervical facet joint syndrome affects the upper back. The facet joints in the upper back are also extremely prone to injury and wear, particularly the facet joints that are located at the base of the skull. You may have cervical facet joint syndrome if you have pain or tenderness in the neck, or pain that radiates from the neck outward and downward, to the shoulders and back.
Facet joint syndrome is typically diagnosed with a thorough review of medical history as well as a physical examination. Depending on the symptoms, a diagnostic test, like an MRI or x-ray, may be ordered. Once diagnosed, facet joint syndrome can be effectively treated by chiropractic care and other non-invasive treatments. Your chiropractor will first help reduce the pain and inflammation at the location of the joint, allowing treatment to continue painlessly. In addition to spinal manipulation, treatment may include heat therapy or cold therapy, massage, physical therapy, postural correction, and ergonomic or lifestyle advice. In many cases, once the initial pain of facet joint syndrome is addressed, patients can find relief from syndromes by increasing gentle exercise and focusing on proper posture and healthy habits. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of facet joint syndrome, chiropractic treatment can help reduce pain and discomfort for many types of spinal issues, including facet joint syndrome.