Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet joint syndrome is a disorder that affects the tiny joints in your back that connect your spinal bones (vertebrae). You rely on these joints for normal back movement. The onset of facet joint syndrome has several potential underlying causes. If you develop this condition, your doctor can address your symptoms through both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options.

The symptoms of facet joint syndrome vary somewhat according to the location of your facet joint problems. The presence of the syndrome in your lower back can produce symptoms that include tenderness near the affected joints and a diffuse or unlocalized pain that appears in your lower back, thighs or buttocks. The presence of the syndrome in your neck can produce tenderness near the affected joints, diffuse pain, headaches and stiffness that makes it difficult to turn your head. People with facet joint syndrome also sometimes have problems standing erect and may have a noticeably stooped posture.

The symptoms of facet joint syndrome can be very similar to symptoms associated with other common types of neck and lower back pain. To make a proper diagnosis of the syndrome, your doctor will perform a procedure called a facet joint injection, which involves the injection of a small amount of anesthetic directly into the suspected joint. If you gain relief from this injection, you have facet joint syndrome. Your doctor can then provide longer-term relief by giving you another injection that contains an anti-inflammatory medication called a steroid (corticosteroid) and a larger dose of anesthetic.

Other potential options for facet joint syndrome treatment include modification of your daily physical activities, physical therapy and use of oral anti-inflammatory medications. People who have severe symptoms or don’t respond to other treatments may need to undergo a surgical procedure called a rhizotomy, which involves the severing of a nearby nerve root.