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What are Facet Joints?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The bones of the body are connected to each other by structures known as joints. These joints allow the body to perform various movements, depending upon their location within the body. The joints found in the spinal column are referred to as facet joints. Other medical terms for these joints include Apophyseal joints or Zygapophyseal joints. There are two of these facet joints attached to each of the spinal vertebra.

Facet joints work as hinges and link one vertebrae to the next, ultimately forming what is known as the spine. These joints belong to a class of joints known as synovial joints. These joints produce a fluid that is responsible for lubrication, thus creating a better range of motion and easier movement. Synovial joints are the most common type of joint found within the human body, the other type being called cartilaginous joints.

The spine itself is stabilized immensely by the fact that each of the vertebra are linked together by this group of facet joints. Types of movement made possible by these joints include bending and twisting. There are two types of bending allowed by these joints. These include flexion, or bending in a forward direction, and extension or bending the spine backward.

When there is chronic pain involving the facet joints, the condition is referred to as Facet Joint Syndrome. The neck and the lower back are the most vulnerable areas for this type of joint pain. The symptoms of this condition will vary dependent upon the location of the affected joints.

When the pain involves the lower part of the spine, pain and tenderness are present in the lower back. This pain increases any time the back undergoes any type of twisting motion. Pain and stiffness may radiate into the buttocks and the upper thighs as well, making activities such as standing straight or getting out of a chair difficult and quite painful.

Headaches and neck pain are prevalent if the joints located in the neck are affected. There may also be shoulder pain and difficulty in rotating the head in any direction. Injury to the facet joints is a common cause of this syndrome. However, it may also occur as a natural part of the aging process.

Treatments for Facet Joint Syndrome are varied and tailored to the individual patient. Correcting bad posture habits and practicing proper lifting techniques are often enough to correct the problem without more invasive medical intervention. Medications and exercise, including physical therapy, often help to alleviate the pain as well. In extreme cases, surgery to destroy the nerve causing the pain is sometimes a necessary and highly effective treatment method.

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