Facet Joint Pain

Common Reasons for Chronic Neck and Back Pain

Many of us will likely deal with some form of back or neck pain in our life. Here we get into the basics of what causes chronic beck and neck pain in life.

Healthy Facet Joints

Between each of the vertebrae in your spine are two small joints called facet joints. These joints connect the spinal vertebrae to each other and provide stability, mobility, and support to the spine.  Facet joints slide against each other as you move, but this sliding is painless due to their smooth, moist cartilage.

Painful Joints

Years of wear and tear, arthritis, or an injury can lead to inflammation and the breakdown of cartilage in the facet joints.  As cartilage becomes thinner and less supportive, discs can slip or outgrowths of bone (called bone spurs) can develop as the bone adjusts to less and less support.

Damaged or inflamed facet joints can feel painful, tender, and stiff. If the affected facet joints are in your neck, you may also have a grinding sound with head movement, headaches, and muscle spasm in your neck and shoulders.  If they are in your back, you may find yourself inclined to lean forward to create more space between the joints.  Patients often say their pain increases with extension or prolonged periods of inactivity and is relieved with changing positions.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Contact your physician for a consultation and diagnosis if you experience the symptoms of painful facet joints. A facet joint injection called a medical branch block can both relieve pain and definitively determine whether symptoms are caused by damage to the facet joints.

Facet joint injections can greatly reduce pain and be safely performed in an outpatient setting. If your pain is temporarily improved or resolved by injections, your doctor may suggest a treatment called radiofrequency ablation for prolonged relief.

Radiofrequency ablation works by selectively ablating (or “shutting off”) nerves transmitting pain signals, thereby decreasing pain to the selected area. It can offer pain relief lasting up to 18 months and longer in some cases.

Expert Advice: Your Pain

“The facet joint can cause low back pain which is typically worse when standing or extending backwards. It’s often improved when you sit or bend forward. The pain is due to arthritis in the joints in the lower back. Frequently it’s treated with physical therapy,anti-inflammatory medication, and steroid injections in the joint. Those injections can help reduce the inflammation that causes the pain. If those are successful, another outpatient procedure called a radio frequency ablation can be performed. That procedure burns the nerve that controls the pain and can relieve pain up to a couple years in many cases.”

Jason Eck, DO
Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics

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