Facet joint syndrome is pain at the joint between two vertebrae in your spine. The facet joints are the joints in your spine that make your back flexible and enable you to bend and twist. Nerves exit your spinal cord through these joints on their way to other parts of your body. Healthy facet joints have cartilage, which allows your vertebrae to move smoothly against each other without grinding. Each joint is lubricated with Synovial Fluid for additional protection against wear and tear. When your facet joints become swollen and painful due to irritation, it is called facet joint syndrome.


Facet joint syndrome can be caused by a combination of aging, pressure overload of your facet joints, and injury. Pressure Overload on your facet joints is probably caused by degeneration of the intervertebral discs in your spine. As the discs degenerate, they wear down and begin to collapse. This narrows the space between each vertebra. This narrowing of the space between each vertebra affects the way your facet joints line up. When this occurs, it places too much pressure on the articular cartilage surface of the facet joint. The excessive pressure leads to damage of the articular surface and eventually the cartilage begins to wear away.

When facet joint arthritis gets bad enough, the cartilage and fluid that lubricate the facet joints are eventually destroyed as well, leaving bone rubbing on bone. Bone spurs begin to form around the facet joints. When bone spurs develop, they can take up space in the foramen (the opening between vertebrae where nerve roots exit the spine) and press into nerve roots. As the bone spurs begin to grow larger, they can eventually extend into the spinal canal itself. This leads to narrowing of your spinal canal, called spinal stenosis.


Facet joints can become inflamed and irritated throughout the spine. Having the condition in your upper back can greatly decrease one’s ability to twist the back. This can become problematic when trying to bend forward. Associated ailments include rib subluxations, intercostal neuralgia and trigger point formation from the lack of movement.


A Chiropractic adjustment is the most effective tool to mobilize a joint that has become arthritic and/or inflamed. This is because the thrust can immediately increase range of motion, reduce nerve irritability and improve function. Additionally, many of the soft tissue devices used at the office (i.e. Graston therapy, rapid release and ultrasound) can help reduce inflammation and mobilize fixated joints. If symptoms persist or are too severe, facet joint injections might be recommended for relief. Ice is the preferred therapy for home use and heat will only inflame the joint more.