When Spinal Pain Signals a Facet Joint Problem

Back and neck pain are common problems among adults of all ages. They are so common that the vast majority of people who experience ongoing discomfort and limited range of motion put off getting care that can help them return to optimal wellness. A common misconception is that spine pain is caused by either the muscles around the spine or a slipped disc. The spine is much more complex than that, which is why it is so important to see a spine specialist when pain persists for more than a few weeks. In some cases, pain indicates facet joint syndrome. We’ll discuss this condition here. 

What are the Facet Joints?

Most people don’t grow up learning about the intricate structure of the spine. Generally, we know that the spine has discs, vertebrae, and nerves. The spine also has facet joints. These are located at each level of the spine along the back of the vertebrae. They give the spine flexion so we can bend and twist. Healthy facet joints have sufficient cartilage and synovial fluid to assist with the necessary movements. These substances prevent grinding and excessive wear and tear. When facet joint pain occurs, it isn’t the joint itself that hurts but that a nerve root that is exiting the spine through an affected joint is sending distress signals. 

Symptoms of Facet Joint Syndrome

The presentation of facet joint pain can vary and is associated with its cause. Usually, pain develops slowly in the affected joint. Additional symptoms include:

  • Numbness, weakness, or tingling. These sensations may occur right at the point where a nerve rubs against the facet joint. 
  • Difficulty bending and twisting the spine. 
  • Pain and tenderness in the general area of the affected joint.

If You Have Facet Joint Pain

Truly, most people do not come to our office complaining of facet joint pain. They come in because they are tired of living with limited range of motion, back or neck pain, poor sleep, and an overall concern about their quality of life due to the pain they experience. When they come to see us, we can determine the cause of their discomfort and develop a treatment plan around that cause. 

Facet joint pain is usually treated conservatively. The objective is to restore better spinal mobility and improved comfort. This may be achieved with ice, rest, physical therapy, massage, muscle strengthening, and medication. A physical therapist may suggest postural modifications to better support the normal curvature of the spine. They may administer ultrasound or electro stimulation treatments to address muscle spasms and inflammation. A doctor may administer injection therapy to minimize more severe pain and inflammation. When necessary, a doctor will consider surgical procedures such as nerve ablation, discectomy, or facet joint fusion.

Surgery may be the best option for correcting the cause of ongoing back pain. Dr. Todd Albert performs most procedures utilizing minimally invasive surgical techniques. To schedule a consultation and examination of your back or neck pain, contact our NYC office at 212-606-1004

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