Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet Joint Syndrome Overview Facet Joint Syndrome Causes & Symptoms Facet Joint Syndrome Diagnosis & Treatments

What is Facet Joint Syndrome?

The most common cause of low back pain in patients is caused by facet joint arthritis or facet joint syndrome. Facet joint syndrome is the general diagnosis of pain at the joint between two spinal vertebrae and commonly referred to as osteoarthritis. Facet joints are essential to your spine’s ability to bend, turn and twist. Healthy facet joints contain cartilage and are lubricated with synovial fluid, which provides a buffer that enables vertebrae to move against each other without grinding or pinching. Each segment of the spine has three joints that allow for movement. Each vertebra has two facet joints in the rear and a sizeable intervertebral disc toward the front. The facet joints are the connections between vertebrae. This layout provides stability to the spine and allows you to bend and twist. When facet joints are injured — by trauma or aging — they can limit movement or make movement incredibly uncomfortable and painful.

The facet joints are often the cause of back and neck pain and lack of mobility or stiffness problems. Unfortunately, facet joint disorders are commonly recurrent and are generally disabling for patients who suffer from them. You might be suffering from facet joint syndrome if you experience chronic pain and or severe spasms anywhere in your neck, shoulders or back, buttocks, and it worsens when very active, standing or leaning backward.


Over time, a combination of natural aging and continuous pressure on the joints — or a single injury — can cause the cartilage to wear away. As pressure continues, the discs between vertebrae begin to wear down and can collapse. When this happens, the space between vertebrae is diminished. When the osteoarthritis progresses, the cartilage and synovial fluid that protects the facet joints may be wholly destroyed, leaving bone to rub against bone. In addition to the osteoarthritis condition, small nerves travel from the spinal cord to your facet joints called medial branch nerves.  These spinal nerves carry the pain signal from your joints in your back to your brain and are the reason you feel pain when moving.

Facet joint syndrome is a prevalent form of arthritis, and when seen in older adults, results from normal wear and tear and can be exacerbated by injury — such as whiplash. Facet joint syndrome may affect younger people and is usually related to an injury or overuse. Millions of Americans suffer every day from this condition, but they find ways to cope and adjust their lifestyle for fear of surgery.

Illustration of the facet joints in your spine


At the International Spine Institute (ISI), we specialize in treating chronic low back pain resulting from facet joint syndrome.  We often are asked for an expert second opinion when patients are told that spinal fusion surgery is the only option to take away their low back pain.  We also treat many patients that have been treated with a pain management radiofrequency ablation procedure.  These patients often only get short-term relief from this percutaneous procedure commonly offered by pain management physicians.  At ISI, we offer an endoscopic facet rhizotomy to treat the painful facet joints in your back or neck.   By visualizing the facet joints with an endoscope and HD camera, our surgeon can target and sever these painful nerves that cause low back pain sparing patients a spinal fusion.  Clinical studies and have shown that this surgery can provide low back pain relief for up to 8 years.  When you visit the spine specialists at the International Spine Institute, we can discuss a variety of treatment options that will put your mind at ease. Don’t suffer longer than you have to.

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