Facet joint pain
A facet joint is the joint between two vertebrae. Facet joints allow your vertebrae to move while keeping your spine properly aligned. Like all joints, they are subject to wear and tear and begin to deteriorate as you age, causing pain.
Symptoms or consequences
- Pain or tenderness in the lower back
- Pain that increases with twisting at the waist or bending backward and extending the lower back
- Pain that moves to the buttocks and hips or the back of the thighs—usually a deep, dull ache
- Stiffness or difficulty with certain movement, such as standing up straight or getting up out of a chair
- Difficulty rotating the head
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
Each vertebral body in your spine has three main points of movement: the intervertebral disc and the two facet joints. These facet joints are small, stabilizing joints located on either side of each vertebra and consist of bony knobs coated with a slippery cartilage.
Assessment and diagnosis
Facet joint problems are usually treated with a combination of conservative methods, including pain medication, exercise and physical therapy, posture correction, activity modification, and steroid injections. If your pain doesn’t improve, you may be helped by an outpatient procedure called Radiofrequency Ablation. This approach completes the continuum of care for back pain sufferers who want a minimally invasive alternative to surgery.6
How is facet pain diagnosed?
The most definitive diagnosis for determining your pain can be made by a medial branch block.7 This involves injecting a numbing medicine into or very near the nerves that supply the facet joint. If there is a significant decrease in pain (80% or more), it confirms that the joint is causing the pain.