Facet joints occur in pairs at the back of each vertebra. The facet joints link the vertebrae directly above and below to form a working unit that permits movement of the spine. The structure of the facet joint is identical to other joints in the body, such as knees and hips.
The bone surfaces of the facet joints are covered with a specialized tissue called articular cartilage. The joint is lined by a membrane called the synovium and enclosed in a fibrous sac called a joint capsule. A thick liquid (synovial fluid) surrounds the joint, allowing the bones to move without friction.
Facet joint syndrome refers to pain that occurs in the facet joints. This syndrome most often affects the lower back and neck. Lumbar facet syndrome might cause referred pain to the buttocks and thigh. Facet syndrome in the neck might cause headaches or shoulder pain.
- Pain or tenderness in the lower back
- Pain that increases with twisting or arching the body
- Pain that moves to the buttocks or the back of the thighs — This pain is usually a deep, dull ache.
- Stiffness or difficulty with certain movements, such as standing up straight or getting up out of a chair
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Difficulty rotating the head
- Keeping the spine in proper alignment can reduce stress on the lower back and neck.
- Using proper lifting techniques also is important for protecting the back and neck.
- The goal of exercise and/or physical therapy is to reduce pain and inflammation, and increase pain-free movement. Exercise also increases circulation, which aids healing. It also improves flexibility and builds strength.