What is facet syndrome?

Facet syndrome is a painful, uncomfortable, and limiting condition. Although it is almost always the product of deterioration caused by aging, there are also ways to prevent its appearance.

Last update: 08 November, 2021

Facet syndrome, also known as facet disease, is a condition that causes pain or dysfunction in the facet joints of the vertebrae. These are the ones that connect the vertebrae to each other, one to the other.

The function of the vertebrae is to give support, stability and mobility to the spine. Facet syndrome can occur in any area of ​​the spine, but it is most common in the lower back. It causes pain, stiffness, and difficulty in movement.

In most cases, arises as an effect of aging. Although age brings wear and tear on the vertebrae, this condition can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle.

The configuration of the spine

The spinal column is a kind of mast that serves as the axis of the body. It fulfills three basic functions: to give structural support to the whole body, to protect the spinal cord and to allow the movement of the trunk.

The spine is a multi-joint structure, that is, it is made up of several segments. Each of them forms a unit, but is linked to the other parts. This structure makes movements in various directions possible and allows a correct absorption and distribution of loads.

Each segment or unit is made up of two adjacent vertebrae, an intervertebral disc, spinal ligaments, and facet joints. For the column to function properly, each component must be in good condition.

What is facet syndrome?

The facets are small areas of the vertebrae that form joints at the back of the vertebrae. They are also called facet joints. Each joint is surrounded by a capsule that produces a substance called synovial fluid and its function is to lubricate and cushion the movement.

The facet joints protect the intervertebral disc in the back, prevent the vertebra from moving forward, and prevent excessive rotation or extension.

Now, inside each facet joint there is a small pad that must be lubricated. Sometimes that pad wears out, either from aging or overuse. When this happens, bones glide over each other without cushioning.

The friction causes the bones to wear out and as a result, spurs can form, which are bony protrusions. Likewise, it is possible that there is inflammation, that the cartilage wears out, that subluxations occur or that the joint capsule separates.

The lumbar spine works thanks to its multiple joints that allow movements.

Types of facet syndrome

Facet syndrome can be classified into several types, according to the area of ​​the spine that has been affected. From that point of view, we find 4 forms of presentation:

  • Lumbar.
  • Thoracic facet syndrome.
  • Cervical.
  • Lumbo-sacral facet syndrome.

Causes and symptoms

Facet syndrome almost always occurs as an effect of aging. This brings wear and tear on the joints and causes the condition. However, in some cases the pathology is caused by pressure overload in the joints or by traumatic injury.

The characteristic symptom of facet syndrome is pain. The most common is that this is located in the lower back, but many times it radiates to the groin, buttocks or the back of the thigh. It is aggravated by prolonged standing or by bending, hyperextension, and contralateral rotation movements.

People with this condition often feel relief when they lie down in bed or make a forward leaning motion. It is more common for pain to appear in the morning and at night.

Other symptoms are as follows:

  • Inflammation in the joints of the spine.
  • Loss of back flexibility and stiffness.
  • Increased pain when leaning back.
  • Pain in shoulders and neck.
  • Difficulty turning the head.
  • Column with an unusual curvature.


Diagnosis and treatments available

Typically, the diagnosis of facet syndrome is made from an examination and a clinical interview. Symptoms are the determining indicators.

There are no specific tests for this condition, but the usual is that the diagnosis is corroborated with complementary imaging methods. Usually, the doctor orders X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.

Once the diagnosis is established, there are two types of treatment: conservative and invasive. Let’s see each one in detail.

Diagnosis is based on the patient’s symptoms and after corroboration by imaging tests.

1. Conservative treatment

In the conservative treatment, non-invasive techniques are used. The alternatives are as follows:

  • To be. Helps control pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Repositioning of the joints. It includes physiotherapeutic procedures and mobilizations of the spine.
  • Physiotherapy exercises. They seek to flex and strengthen the muscles so that this helps with rehabilitation.


2. Invasive treatment

Invasive therapy consists of infiltration of anesthetics and cortisone. This is with direct injections into the joint with those drugs. It is only carried out when the conservative approach fails and the patient is fit for the procedure.

Currently, a promising therapy is being developed whose name is percutaneous neurotomy. It consists of necrotizing the nerve fibers of the joint using a radiofrequency technique.

Can facet syndrome be prevented?

Although facet syndrome is caused by aging, a healthy lifestyle helps prevent or delay its onset. Specifically, what is indicated is to carry out regular physical activity, eat a balanced diet and take care of body weight.

Facet syndrome is a condition that significantly impairs quality of life. People who have this problem may be limited in their daily activities due to difficulty in movement or pain.