Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet joints are the small joints at the back of your spine. They help with movement and flexibility. Each joint has a capsule of fluid that helps protect the joint and allow for free flowing movement.

Facet Joint Syndrome is a condition where these joints fail to move freely or with time degenerations sets in. The condition may occur anywhere in the spine, but is more common in the lower back and neck.

As these joints are commonly involved in the wear and tear type issues of ageing, facet syndrome is more noticeable in the elderly as the joints become closer together.

What causes Facet Joint Syndrome?

the facet joint The facet joints can become tightened and hence painful from the common causes of back pain. The daily tasks you perform each day can increase tension on your muscles and joints and lead to spinal imbalances.

Once these imbalances develop the facet joints fail to function correctly and pain may develop.

The degenerative facet syndrome occurs more with age as the joint deteriorates. As the joint space is reduced, minor traumas to these joints is easier to occur and hence pain and stiffness more common.

What are the symptoms of Facet Joint Syndrome?

Pain may be sharp and feel like a "pinched nerve", as the joints are small in size and hence pain becomes more acute in nature.

For most pain is no different to other back pain types. You feel pain in the local area, certain movements will increase this such as leaning backwards and over to one side. In the neck you will find pain is sharp and turning your head at times almost impossible without pain.

If the facet joints become tight then movement may become quite restrictive and you may have to move your entire body to turn one way or another. Stiffness is common, and if inflamed a deep ache is felt. Pain may radiate away from the spine, but this is usually a result of other structures becoming involved.

How is Facet Syndrome diagnosed?

A proper examination may revel tell-tale signs of this, as certain movements and positions are indicative. X-Rays and various scans will indicate if the joint has degenerated, and arthritic changes have developed.

What are the common treatments for Facet Syndrome?

Depending on the type of facet syndrome, treatment can range from medication to relieve inflammation and pain for those with degenerative changes, to surgery to that destroys the nerve signals to your brain.

Conservative treatments such as heat packs, yoga and relaxation techniques are used to reduce tension in the area. Chiropractic will try to mobilize the area, but in cases of degeneration this is best avoided.

Without the degeneration the standard approach is working on the muscles and joints in the area. Chiropractic, Physiotherapy and other structural modalities will attempt to improve joint motion.

Why do traditional approaches fail?

If you have severe degeneration, then there may be nothing else to try than medication or surgery. But for most this is not needed.

Treatments fail as they don't address the underlying cause, they focus on the site of pain and try to either manipulate the joint or ease local muscle tension. Unless you understand the exact cause, you are left trying to remove pain while it's being recreated by the other stresses on the spine.

What is the best approach to help Facet Joint Syndrome?

Even if the joints have degenerated, the best results are still achieved by reducing tension on the joints. Identifying the spinal imbalances helps you to target the cause.

Once these imbalances are detected, then you can use corrective techniques such as inversion therapy to reduce joint tension and inflammation, trigger point release to ease muscle tension which is common with facet syndrome.

The best long term results still occur when you address the muscle and joint imbalances that are the underlying cause. As the spine returns to balance the facet joints can move freely and any compression stress reduces, hence reduce the risk of degeneration.


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