Exercises to Treat Facet Syndrome

November 29, 2023
Dr. Mark Wang is a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He dedicates his full attention to working together with his patients to identify their pain source and find the least invasive treatment that works for them.


Exercises to Treat Facet Syndrome

Lower back pain is a challenging condition for many people. The leading cause is lumbar facet joints, which account for 15% to 45% of cases. Overall, 55% of facet joint patients have cervical spine pain, 42% have thoracic spine pain and 31% have lumbar spine pain. Fortunately, there are ways to improve it.

This discussion will focus on exercise as a treatment for facet syndrome. Before beginning any exercise program, remember to consult with a healthcare professional who will evaluate your specific condition and medical history.

Understanding Facet Syndrome

The facet joints enable us to bend, twist and extend our backs. They also have another name, the zygapophyseal joints. But that’s a bit of a mouthful, so most just call them the facet. 

Each facet joint has a capsule enclosure and a cartilage lining. This cartilage and a lubricating fluid within the joint allow the vertebrae to move smoothly against each other without any friction or discomfort. Facet syndrome occurs when these joints undergo degenerative changes, leading to pain.

Common Causes

Causes of facet joint pain include the following.

  • Aging: The cartilage in the facet joints can naturally wear down as we age, eventually leading to osteoarthritis.
  • Degenerative disc disease: As the intervertebral discs lose hydration and elasticity, the adjacent facet joints experience increased pressure. 
  • Spinal injuries: Accidents or injuries can cause damage. An example is a car accident that results in whiplash.
  • Repetitive motion: Activities that involve excessive bending, twisting or lifting can lead to wear and tear. For example, a professional squash player has to turn and twist on the court to get to the ball. 

Exercise in Facet Syndrome Management

Lumbar facet joint release techniques offer a way to relieve pain and enhance mobility by strengthening the spine so you don’t have to rely on medication or surgical interventions. You can address the symptoms and identify the condition’s root causes. 

Many people also rely on pain medications, but these drugs can have side effects and limited effectiveness over time, which is why finding a long-term solution is a better option. 

How Does It Help?

The muscles surrounding the facet joints weaken or become imbalanced over time. Exercise is about managing the current symptoms and preventing future issues. 

Strengthening exercises contribute the most to long-term spinal health by stabilizing the spine and relieving pressure. However, stretching also adds value by improving range of motion, gently elongating the spine and surrounding muscles and improving blood flow to the area.

What exercise is best for facet joint pain? The answer varies for everyone, depending on their body and abilities. But the good news is that a health professional can tailor an exercise regimen to your specific needs and capabilities.

Stretching Exercises

Facet syndrome exercises include stretching to release tension. For example, child’s pose gently stretches your back and hips. A health professional will suggest trying:

  • Neck stretches
  • Lumbar spine stretches
  • Hip flexor stretches

Daily activities may become more manageable and less painful as your flexibility improves and pain diminishes.

Strengthening Exercises

You can build on spinal stability and muscle support to complement the flexibility you have gained from stretching.

  • Low-impact aerobic exercises: Try something low-key like walking, swimming or tai chi. These can all improve cardiovascular health without stressing out your spine. You can join a class that matches your desired intensity level or find an at-home program.


  • Other types of training: Strengthening your core is another area you can focus on. Ask a physical therapist for advice on how to start. Balance training is another idea, as this is a gentle way to get the core going. You can always have a chair nearby if you feel unsteady.

Importance of Consistency

Consistency is the secret to a successful exercise regimen. Even 20 to 30 minutes of sustained daily movement can give you results. Modify your exercises to match how you feel on a given day, being gentle with yourself during painful periods.

There are several ways to approach toning and strengthening your body. Don’t feel like you have to repeat the same move over and over. Ask a trainer about variations to mix things up and keep it interesting. For instance, switch to yoga or low-impact cardio if your daily walk no longer inspires you.

Seeking Professional Guidance

A physical therapist or spine surgeon can customize an exercise plan for your needs, accounting for your:

  • Range of motion
  • Strength
  • Medical history
  • Pain levels
  • Stage of your facet syndrome

At regular appointments, a healthcare professional will evaluate your progress and assess each stage. They can adjust the program to reflect improvements and address any challenges or setbacks you may encounter.

DISC, an orthopedic spine center based in the greater Phoenix area, can support patients with benefits such as customized exercise plans. We can give you a complete assessment and a holistic strategy. We also assist with manual therapy, pain management and lifestyle modifications.

Managing facet syndrome is challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. The supportive experts at Desert Institute for Spine Care are ready to guide you toward a healthier, pain-free future.

Seeking Professional Guidance

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