Facet joint pain photo

Diagnosing and Treating Facet Joint Pain

Are you experiencing intermittent low back pain lately? Are these episodes of back pain unpredictable occurring only a few times a month?

Well, maybe, there’s a problem with your facet joints! Read on so you get tips how to get your much-needed joint pain relief.


The flexible part of the spine consists of three elements — the vertebral body, the facet joint and the intervertebral disc.

The vertebral body is the bony, building blocks of the spine. The facet joints or Z joints connect the two adjacent vertebrae in the human spine.

These are small, stabilizing joints between and behind the adjacent vertebrae. The joints are structures which stabilize the spine and provide the much-needed flexibility for us to move, turn, look and move around.

Experts say that the facet joints provide about 20 percent of the torsional stability of our neck and lower back.

Meanwhile, the intervertebral disc is the structure that provides a cushion between each of the vertebral bodies and binds them together.

A capsule surrounds each facet joint. The capsule provides some sort of lubricant for each joint.

Within the capsule are miniscule nerve fibers that provide warning when this area of the spine is irritated. The sliding faces of the facet joints are normally coated by low friction, moist cartilage.

As humans move, walk, turn and twist, our facet joints are also in constant motion with our spine. This constant motion of the facet joints may actually be the cause of degeneration.

Wear and tear from aging through time and the repetitive stress and strain that these joints are subjected to from our constant motion, may lead to the degeneration of our facet joints.

In certain individuals, the stress and strain on the facet joints may increase even more as the intervertebral disc degenerates and becomes thinner with age. Such condition may then lead to the inflammation and formation of spinal bone spurs.

This causes the condition called the facet joint syndrome or the arthritis of the facet joints.


Facet joint syndrome causes spasms and pain in the neck and the lower back. Common symptoms of this conditions, as mentioned by experts are the following:

  • Intermittent, generally unpredictable episodes of lumber and cervical facet joint pain. This may occur a few times during the month.
  • Persistent tenderness overlying the inflamed facet joints and to a certain degree, loss of spinal muscle flexibility.
  • Low back pain from the facet joints. This often radiates down into the buttocks and down the back of the upper leg. However, this pain rarely radiates to the lower leg or below the knee.
  • More discomfort when leaning backward, than leaning forward.
  • Pain may also radiate locally into the shoulders or the upper back.

For many patients, there will be recurring painful episodes. However, these episodes can be unpredictable in terms of timing and extent of the pain.

This is the reason why in several instances for many patients, they believe that such condition is merely a psychosomatic problem.


Experts suggest that the most definitive diagnosis for this condition is though a facet joint injection. The process injects a small volume of a combination of X ray contrast material, local anesthetic and cortisone to suspicious facet joints.

As such, relief of the problem at the time of action is diagnostic of the condition.

A spinal CT scan can also provide information of the facet joints as well as other structures of the spine.


So what are the treatment options available for those suffering from facet joint pain? How can patients get joint pain relief?

Experts suggest non-surgical treatment options for patients in order to alleviate pain and rehabilitate the back.

  • The use of anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and Celebrex, depending on what is ideal for the patient.
  • Physical therapy by a health care provider. The therapy may be a sort of combination of certain passive and active exercises. Heat or ice packs, iontophoresis and ultrasound are some examples of passive therapy. On the other hand, stretching, low impact aerobic conditioning, and back exercise programs designed by your physical therapist are examples of active therapy.
  • Good posture and maintaining the normal curvature of the spine can also be very beneficial for patients. Choosing the right shoes, the right office chair, maintaining the right posture while sitting. Letting your spine rest while sleeping. These are the ways by which you can maintain the normal curvature of your spine.
  • Chiropractic and osteopathic manipulations can also be a very good treatment option for patients.

If you’re having or suspect you’re having facet joint pain, make an appointment to see the skilled team at Arizona Pain and Spine Institute. We’re here to help you live a pain-free life.