Facet Joint Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Facet joint syndrome, sometimes referred to as facet disease, is a condition that affects the facet joints as they degenerate from years of wear and tear. The facet joints are part of the connection between two adjacent vertebrae. Because the facet joints are almost constantly in motion, they simply degenerate from wear and tear or repetitive stresses and strains over time as we age. This is why the condition is more commonly found in the elderly.

What Is Facet Joint Syndrome

With age-related natural wear and tear of the spine, facet joint syndrome develops as the spinal discs become thinner, placing more stress on the facet joints. The increased stress causes inflammation and formation of spinal bone spurs leading to arthritis of the facet joint, or facet syndrome. The development of arthritic joints can produce considerable pain and other facet joint symptoms that are felt when the joint is in motion.

As facet disease develops, muscle spasms may occur as protective reflex responses. In conjunction with the development of facet joint disease, powerful muscle spasms will force the spine out of alignment. Thus, treating facet syndrome will usually involve relaxing the spastic muscles.

Facet Joint Syndrome Causes

Facet joint syndrome, also known as facet arthritis or facet joint arthritis, is a condition characterized by pain and inflammation in the facet joints spine. These small, paired joints connect the vertebrae and allow for spinal movement and stability. Several factors can contribute to the development of lumbar facet syndrome.

Facet joint syndrome often occurs as a result of age-related degeneration of the spinal joints. Over time, the cartilage that cushions the facet joints may wear down, leading to friction, inflammation, and facet joint pain.

Certain spinal conditions can increase the risk of developing facet joint syndrome. These include spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), herniated discs, spondylolisthesis (slippage of one vertebra over another), and spinal osteoarthritis.

Facet joint syndrome can be triggered by trauma or injury to the spine. This includes accidents, falls, sports injuries, or repetitive stress on the spine, which can damage the facet joints and surrounding structures.

Prolonged poor posture, incorrect body mechanics, or repetitive movements that place excessive stress on the facet joints can contribute to their degeneration and the development of facet joint syndrome. Excess body weight can place added stress on the facet joints, accelerating their degeneration and increasing the likelihood of facet joint syndrome.

Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing facet joint syndrome. Certain genetic variations can affect the structure and function of the facet joints, making them more susceptible to degeneration and inflammation.

Other pre-existing joint diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, can lead to inflammation and damage to the facet joints, contributing to facet joint syndrome. Jobs or activities that involve repetitive movements or overuse of the spine can strain the facet joints and increase the risk of facet joint syndrome. This includes occupations that require frequent bending, twisting, or heavy lifting.

It's important to note that the exact cause of facet joint syndrome can vary from person to person, and it may be a combination of multiple factors. Understanding the underlying causes can help healthcare professionals develop an effective treatment plan to manage the pain and symptoms associated with facet joint syndrome.

Facet Joint Syndrome Symptoms

The symptoms can vary from person to person, but there are several common signs and symptoms associated with facet joint syndrome:

  • Localized Back or Neck Pain: The most prevalent symptom of facet joint syndrome is localized pain in the affected area of the spine. In the case of lumbar facet joint syndrome, the pain is typically felt in the lower back, while cervical facet joint syndrome causes pain in the neck region. The pain may be sharp or dull and can vary in intensity.
  • Pain Radiation: In some cases, the pain from facet joint syndrome may radiate to other areas of the body. For example, if the lumbar facet joints are affected, the pain can radiate to the buttocks, hips, or thighs. Similarly, cervical facet joint syndrome may cause pain that spreads to the shoulders, upper back, or arms.
  • Limited Range of Motion: Facet joint syndrome can restrict the normal range of motion in the affected area of the spine. Patients may experience stiffness or difficulty when bending, twisting, or extending the spine. This limitation in movement can significantly impact daily activities and overall mobility.
  • Muscle Spasms: The inflammation and irritation of the facet joints can lead to muscle spasms in the surrounding muscles. These spasms can contribute to additional pain and discomfort, further affecting the ability to move and perform activities.
  • Joint Tenderness: The facet joints may become tender to the touch, especially when pressure is applied to the affected area. Palpating the spine near the affected facet joints may elicit pain or discomfort. Pain Aggravation: Certain movements or positions can exacerbate the pain associated with facet joint syndrome. Activities such as bending backward, twisting the spine, or prolonged sitting or standing can increase discomfort and intensify the symptoms.
  • Morning Stiffness: Many individuals with facet joint syndrome experience stiffness and pain in the affected area upon waking up in the morning. This stiffness tends to improve with movement and activity as the day progresses.


The treatment of facet joint syndrome, also known as facet joint osteoarthritis or facet joint arthritis, aims to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, improve function, and enhance overall quality of life. The specific treatment approach may vary depending on the severity of symptoms, individual needs, and the healthcare professional's recommendations. Here are some common treatment options for facet joint syndrome:

  • Medications;
  • Physical Therapy;
  • Heat and Cold Therapy;
  • Facet Joint Injections;
  • Radiofrequency Ablation;
  • Supportive Devices;
  • Lifestyle Modifications;
  • Alternative Therapies.


While facet joint syndrome, also known as facet joint osteoarthritis or facet joint arthritis, may not be entirely preventable, there are several measures you can take to reduce the risk of developing this condition or minimize its impact.

Some prevention tips:

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight;
  • Practice Good Posture;
  • Exercise Regularly;
  • Lift Properly;
  • Avoid Repetitive Movements;
  • Maintain Spinal Health;
  • Protect Your Spine;
  • Listen to Your Body.

While these preventive strategies cannot guarantee the complete prevention of facet joint syndrome, they can significantly reduce the risk and potentially delay the onset of this condition. By adopting a proactive approach to spinal health, you can promote overall well-being and maintain a healthier spine.


Facet Joint Syndrome