Facet Joint Arthritis

What are Facet Joints?

Facet joints are small joints that are part of our spine. These joints are found throughout the spine from the neck all the way down to the lower back. Facet joints are on the back part of the spine and two joints on either side connect each vertebral bone to the next one. These joints are “synovial joints”, which means they contain cartilage and joint fluid, like our hip, shoulder and knee joints. The facet joints allow the vertebrae to move smoothly against each other without grinding.


Image Credit: Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762.

What is Facet Joint Syndrome?

Facet Joint Syndrome is a term that is used to describe pain that results from breakdown of the facet joints. As we age the joints in our body are prone to breakdown from wear and tear. This process is known as ‘Osteoarthritis’.

Osteoarthritis can affect all synovial joints including the facet joints. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in our joints begin to breakdown with increasing age. As the cartilage breaks down there is loss of the joint fluid as well. As this process progresses there can be a total loss of cartilage which results in the bones of the joint rubbing against each other. The inflammation involved with the breakdown of the joint can lead to abnormal growth of bone, or bone spurs.

What are the Symptoms of Facet joint Syndrome?

Since the facet joints help with movement of the spine, symptoms of facet joint syndrome usually include difficulty with bending and twisting. In the neck there can be difficulty with movement of the head, such that you may have to turn your entire body to look left or right. As the joints break down inflammation occurs which causes pain. Pain usually occurs in the low back and can sometimes involve the buttock. If the facet joints in the neck are involved pain can occur in the neck and can involve the shoulders. Headaches can accompany the neck pain as well depending on which joints are involved.

In more severe cases where bone spurs are present the bone spurs can take up space in the spine where the spinal cord and spinal nerves are found. This can cause compression of spinal nerves and/or the spinal cord which can lead to the symptoms of Sciatica, Radiculopathy and/or Spinal Stenosis.