Facet joint pain is also known as facet joint syndrome, facet joint disease or facet joint sprain.
Facet joint pain is a common cause of pain in the cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back) and lumbar (lower back) spine.
Even though facet joint syndrome is very common, it's also one of the most difficult conditions to diagnose accurately without an in-depth examination by a trained osteopathic physician.
A proper osteopathic treatment can identify the location and cause(s) of your facet joint pain. Helping to understand the root cause of your pain will enable effective treatment, providing lasting relief from your pain.
What is a facet joint?
Facet joints are small joints located between the vertebrae in the back of the spinal column. These joints have opposing cartilage surfaces, which reduces friction between the bones. A capsule containing a small amount of synovial fluid surrounds the joint. This synovial fluid acts as an additional lubricant to reduce friction between the rubbing bones.
A healthy facet joint stabilises the spine while allowing for a wide range of motion which includes flexion and extension, rotation, and lateral flexion (side-bending).
Causes of facet joint pain
There are a number of conditions that can cause these joints to become inflamed and painful, including osteoarthritis, degenerated discs, spinal stenosis, or a trauma such as whiplash.
Facet joint pain can also be caused by repetitive movements or poor posture.
When facet joints become less mobile and more difficult to move it is referred to as hypomobility.
When facet joints become overly loose and move excessively it's referred to as hypermobility.
Now and then facet joints lock, also causing debilitating pain.
Symptoms of facet joint syndrome
Pain levels appear to be determined by the sensitivity of the body's self-protective system, which sends the back or neck muscles into spasms to better protect the facet joint.
Acute episodes of lower back and neck pain that are intermittent, often unpredictable, and occur a few times each month or year are common symptoms.
Facet joint pain in the lower back frequently travels down into the glutes and down the back of the upper leg, but seldom in the front of the leg or past the knee.
Similarly, pain in the neck cervical facet joints may migrate to the shoulders or upper back, but seldom to the arm.
If your pain radiates into the lower leg or lower arm, accompanied by numbness or pins and needles, it is more likely to be caused by degenerative disc disease, but the two conditions frequently coexist.
It is generally more bothersome when bending backwards and less so when leaning forward.
Can an osteopath help with facet joints?
Yes, osteopaths have a deep understanding of the intricate biomechanics that cause abnormal loading in your facet joints. Osteopaths are also experts at identifying stiff or tight muscles that may be causing abnormal rotation in the joints of your spine, which may be the root cause of your pain.
The Osteopath is highly skilled at treating the joints of your spine, with precision the osteopath will help reduce the pressure on the inflamed joints, relieving the muscle tension and improving joint function through osteopathic treatment.
Osteopathic treatment for facet joint pain
At your first appointment with us, at Foundation Health, one of our experienced osteopaths will begin with a physical exam and review your medical history.
You will also be asked to describe the timeline and triggers of your pain and discomfort.
Your history and physical exam are used to make the diagnosis of facet joint syndrome.
Diagnostic imaging can be obtained if facet joint syndrome is suspected. Imaging procedures include, but are not limited to, X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.
Your treatment plan for facet joint pain will vary from person to person depending on the severity of the problem. Our aim is to tailor each treatment to the clients needs.
If you have spinal pain, don't delay getting a diagnosis and treatment, since chronic facet pain causes rapid degeneration of the spine.
Recovery and prevention for facet joint pain
Routine stretching, strength and cardiovascular exercise may slow down the degeneration process by improving overall neck and back, strength and mobility.
In this way, you can reduce stress on the facet joints and reduce inflammation in your body without compromising your range of motion.
Most people with facet joint syndrome do not get the relief they need from over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs, because these treatments typically focus on masking symptoms rather than addressing the underlying cause of their problem.
Our highly skilled osteopaths look at all aspects of your health, primarily diagnosing the biomechanical cause of your joints, which is causing your pain. We also look at all aspects of the client's health including posture, lifestyle habits, diet, exercise regimen and more, to design an effective, tailored treatment plan to help you gain relief from pain, to live and move more freely.