Facet joints are the connections between the bones of the spine. The nerve roots pass near these joints as they travel from the spinal cord to the arms, legs and other parts of the body. Facet joints also allow the spine to bend and twist. Facet syndrome typically occurs due to injury or arthritis.
People with this condition usually complain that they need to turn their whole body to look to the left or right. The pain and stiffness associated with this condition can make it difficult to stand up straight or get out of a chair. The person may walk hunched over. The specific symptoms depend on where the affected joint is located and what nerve roots it affects. If the affected joint is in the neck, it may cause headaches and difficulty moving the head. If it is in the back, it may cause pain in the lower back, buttocks or thighs. If the facet joint becomes too swollen and enlarged, it may actually block the openings through which the nerve roots pass, causing a pinched nerve. This condition is called facet hypertrophy.
A diagnosis of facet joint syndrome is confirmed by injecting an anesthetic and an anti-inflammatory (Cortisone) into the joint. (“Facet Blocks” or “Medial Branch Blocks”). If there is immediate relief of pain after the injection, the condition is facet joint syndrome.
Treatment typically involves Physical Therapy as well as the use of anti-inflammatory medications at first. Facet blocks or Medial Branch blocks may also be used to then diagnose the condition. Formal treatment typically involves a procedure called “Radio-Frequency Ablation” or “Rhizotomy”. If this all fails then a surgical consultation would be an appropriate next step.