The facet joints in your spine act like hinges, linking your vertebrae together. Each joint is surrounded by connective tissue, ligaments and cartilage, and coated with synovial fluid that helps to lubricate the joint for easy, pain-free movement.
Your facet joints are incredibly important, as they provide strength and flexibility to your spine, while allowing it to bend and twist. Also important, these joints prevent your back from twisting or bending too far in any given direction, thereby protecting you from otherwise certain injury.
As you might suspect, facet joints take a beating, as they are in near-constant motion with your spine, and as such are prone to degeneration and deterioration as you get older.
The degeneration may occur more quickly if you’re overweight, have poor posture, or have injured your spine due to injury or strenuous and repetitive activities. And, as with all facets of health, if you lead an unhealthy lifestyle, such as eating poorly and rarely exercising, this, too, can take a toll on your back.
Do You Suffer from Facet Joint Syndrome?
When the cartilage wears down to an extremely thin layer and the synovial fluid begins to leak out, allowing your facet joints to dry out, it can cause inflammation and extra friction between your vertebra — friction that may be anywhere from mildly irritating to debilitating. Bone spurs, leading to arthritis of the spine, may also develop, and it’s common for facet joint problems to be seen alongside other conditions as well, such as spondylolisthesis (when a vertebra in your spine slips out of position), diabetes and infections.
At this point, you may be told you have facet joint syndrome, which is simply a term used to describe degenerated facet joints. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Pain and stiffness in your neck, which requires that you turn your whole body to look right or left
- Difficulty standing up, such as when rising out of a chair
- Hunching over while walking
- Back, neck and shoulder pain
- A deep ache that radiates to your buttocks or thighs
Facet joint syndrome is not a “disease” — it’s a term used to describe a set of symptoms, which have their own underlying causes. So in order to solve this issue, it’s necessary to address these foundational causes, rather than simply treating the symptoms with anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections or surgery, which are commonly offered as “solutions” by conventional physicians.
In fact, facet joint syndrome is often diagnosed by injecting an anti-inflammatory drug into the facet joint. If the pain and stiffness disappears, you will know, officially, that the facet joint is the source (but not the cause) of your pain — but, of course, the relief is only temporary.
A Healthy Back Requires a Healthy Lifestyle
If you’re looking for long-term relief of back pain from facet joint problems or other causes — or you want to prevent it in the first place — a holistic, individualized approach is best.
Conventional approaches, such as injections of corticosteroids into facet joints to relieve pain are only temporary, and at times ineffective. In fact, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported:[i]
“We conclude that injecting methylprednisolone acetate [a corticosteroid] into the facet joints is of little value in the treatment of patients with chronic low back pain.”
There are many other options available, and using a combination of approaches is often most effective for long-term pain relief and prevention of worsening back problems. Remember, your back does not exist in isolation from the rest of your body; it is an integral part, which is why your treatment should be body-wide as well.
If you’re tired of struggling with pain, subscribe to the Web’s best back pain newsletter above for tips and videos offering long-term solutions, and fast pain-relief tricks, for even the most painful back conditions. Among the top options to consider for long-term resolution include:
- Proper posture
- Achieve a healthy weight
- Proper nutrition, including avoiding inflammatory foods like trans fats, sugars and refined grains
- Exercise, which will strengthen your core and other key supportive muscles and improve flexibility, which may protect your joints and help with pain relief[ii]
There are also safe, effective strategies to help with pain relief while you address the underlying causes. You can learn more about these, and other tips, in the LosetheBackPain.com free e-newsletter:
- Heat therapy, specifically using a far-infrared heating pad, which can penetrate 2-3 inches deep for effective pain relief
- Celadrin-based pain relief cream: Celadrin has an extremely high success rate in relieving joint pain[iii]
- Natural anti-inflammatories to relieve inflammation
- Muscle-Balance therapy, which helps restore your body to a neutral, balanced and stable state for long-term pain relief
- Trigger-point therapy: Trigger points have been proven to be directly responsible for 75% of all pain, and eliminating trigger points may help with pain relief.
- Inversion therapy, which helps your body reseat misaligned facet joints by relieving pressure and allowing the joints to simply “slip” back into the correct position
- Emotional resolutions: Your emotional health can take a toll on your body physically, and back pain, specifically, has been found to respond well to psychological interventions. Emotional techniques such as hypnosis, supportive counseling, biofeedback and relaxation relieve back pain equally to or better than conventional treatments such as surgery, nerve blocks and drugs[iv] — so tending to your emotional health should not be overlooked.
Only by addressing your health as a whole will you be able to live free from back pain, and this is what The Healthy Back Institute is all about. Subscribe to our free e-newsletter today at the top right of this page and start your journey toward achieving the pain-free wellness you deserve.
Written By: Updated: January 25,2012
3 thoughts on “What is Facet Joint Syndrome?”
I have been taking heel n sooth sense april 2017 along with turmeric and flex o plex. Have been doing well tell 2 weeks ago. Having palm where muscle attach to the bone. Lower rib top of thy and Brest bone. Any suggestions?
Lester, it is very common to have ups and downs during a recovery, sometimes the cause or reason for a set back is not known, however, I would suggest that you start to do some physical activities so that you can start to build up some stability in your upper back, neck and shoulders… I have posted a very good and easy exercise for you to do daily…
Keep up the supplements and keep us posted
Thank you Steve for responding. The pain I am having is in ribs especially bottom left one some in sternum left shoulder in the front left groined and sometimes both thys where the muscel attaches . Would this be from fibrin being absorbed? I know I once hurt my left rib and my left shoulder has had cartilage damage. I increased heal n sooth to 6 a day last week the past 2days I went to 8