Facet Joint Syndrome

Essential Spine Structure

Facet joints are an essential part of your spine’s structure, allowing you to twist, turn, bend and move.

Located between the adjacent vertebrae of the spine, these joints are in constant motion and provide your spine with stability and flexibility.

A common cause of lower back and lumbar pain is facet joint arthropathy, also called facet joint syndrome. If you struggle with back pain, this degenerative condition could be the cause.

At Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona, we specialize in treating patients who suffer from facet joint pain. With accurate diagnosis and a wide array of treatment plans, we can treat the source of your pain.

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A facet joint highlighted on a model of the human spine.
Facet joint in a human spine model, highlighted in red where there is pain from facet joint syndrome.

What Is Facet Joint Syndrome?

Facet joint syndrome is most commonly seen in adults over the age of 50. It occurs when the joints become worn or torn, leading to bone spurs, inflammation and painful symptoms.

Healthy facet joints contain cartilage lubricated with synovial fluid that acts as a buffer between your vertebrae. The joints enable these bones to move against each other without pinching or grinding. Whether due to aging or trauma, facet joints can become injured. The cartilage wears away, and continued pressure on the joints causes the discs between the vertebrae to wear down and potentially collapse.

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What Causes Facet Joint Pain?

When the space between your vertebrae is diminished and osteoarthritis progresses, the bones are left to rub against each other.

Small nerves travel from the spinal cord to your facet joints. When facet joint syndrome sets in, these medial branch nerves can make any movement incredibly uncomfortable or painful.

Facet joint syndrome is a widespread form of arthritis in older adults.

It usually results from normal wear and tear, but injuries can worsen it. This condition can also affect younger people due to injury or overuse. Once the facet joint is damaged, it can cause long-lasting or permanent disability.

The most common causes of facet joint syndrome are:

  • Degeneration and wear and tear due to aging
  • Trauma such as whiplash or a fall
  • Overuse due to playing sports or heavy labor demands
  • A family history of facet joint disease
  • Other factors such as excessive weight, infection or disease

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Symptoms of Facet Joint Syndrome

Pain or discomfort in your low back, buttocks or legs can be caused by facet joint syndrome in the lumbar spine. If this disorder occurs in your cervical spine, symptoms are commonly experienced in the neck, shoulders and arms.

Some of the symptoms linked to facet joint syndrome include:

  • Severe spasms
  • Pain that radiates into the buttocks or shoulders, depending on the location of the damage to the spine
  • Headaches at the base of the skull
  • Flare-ups due to sitting for long periods of time
  • Pain that worsens due to activity, excessive standing or leaning backward
  • Pain that feels worse at the beginning of the day or when the weather changes

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A woman holding her back in pain.

Facet Joint Syndrome Diagnosis

Accurate diagnosis ensures that the expert spine doctors at DISC can provide you with your best treatment options. Communication is at the heart of what we do. We listen, and we ask. We get to know you as a unique individual, not just another patient.

As we assess your symptoms, conduct a physical examination and run diagnostic tests, we begin to understand your pain journey to identify if you have facet joint syndrome. We may also recommend our proprietary diagnostic technique called Personalized Pain Mapping to accurately diagnose the specific pain generator causing your spinal symptoms.

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Lumbar and Cervical Facet Joint Syndrome Nonsurgical Treatment in Arizona

If you have facet joint syndrome, the board-certified surgeons at DISC will work tirelessly to develop a customized treatment plan based on your unique needs and lifestyle. We are experts in a full range of minimally invasive spine procedures. Many conservative treatment options can potentially bring significant relief, such as: 

  • Activity modification
  • Pain medication, muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Exercise and physical therapy

Ultra Minimally Invasive Surgical Treatment Options

If conservative options are not enough, and your painful symptoms persist for more than three to six months, we may recommend an epidural steroid facet injection or medial branch diagnostic injection. These injections offer pain relief and often times pinpoints the pain generator in your back. If the pain is relieved we may offer a revolutionary long-term surgical option called an endoscopic rhizotomy.

Results of our endoscopic procedure have resulted in up to 5 years of back pain relief. If the pain in your low back becomes chronic or the facets become unstable we often recommend a lumbar spinal fusion, but only after exhausting our least invasive endoscopic spine surgery options.

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Dr Abrams explaining spine x-ray Dr. Abrams laughing

Get the Treatment You Need for Facet Joint Syndrome in AZ

If you’re struggling with facet joint syndrome and chronic pain that impacts your daily activities, work or quality of life, then it’s time to contact the team at DISC. We are doctors who treat facet joint syndrome at its source. Although we’re located in Arizona, patients come to us from all over the world to experience relief from their symptoms.


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