Facet Joint Syndrome Diagnosis

Diagnosing facet joint disorders is not a difficult task. The symptoms and pain associated with the condition can usually be pinpointed quickly. Like the majority of afflictions that affect the back, three steps are taken to establish a preliminary diagnosis. The examining doctor will take a medical history of the patient and ask:

  • How the pain first started?
  • What the pain feels like?
  • Is the pain constant?
  • Are the episodes of pain frequent or infrequent?
  • Lastly, is there is anything that the patient does to make it feel better?

A physical examination of the patient is then performed to check for local tender points and evaluate the range of motion of the patient.

Diagnostic Tests for Facet Joint Syndrome

An X-ray is one of the easiest forms of diagnostic imaging to identify if the patient suffers from a facet joint disorder. A CT Scan would better help to determine if there are problems with the facet joint or surrounding structures. An MRI scan in this situation would not provide much help, unless ordered to visualize other tissue to rule out a different condition. Once diagnosis is confirmed, treatment may begin.

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.

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 disease, powerful muscle spasms will force the spine out of alignment. Thus, treating facet syndrome will usually involve relaxing the spastic muscles.