What is facet joint pain?

The facet joints are basically synovial joints that help carry the weight of the individual as well as control movement in between the separate vertebrae of the spine.

The material posted on this page on facet joint pain is for learning purposes only. You can learn to manage and recognize bone, joint and muscle injuries by registering for first aid training.


The usual symptoms linked with facet joint pain include spasm of the muscles that can pull the spine out of its proper alignment, thus triggering back pain. Oftentimes, when the individual bends over to tie his/her shoe laces, he/she could not move. The usual acute attack of back pain that involves the facet joints typically occurs abruptly without any warning.

Overview on facet joint pain

The facet joints are synovial joints that are responsible for supporting the weight of the body as well as controlling movement between the individual vertebrae in the spine. It is important to note that the facet joints work along with the intervertebral discs in order to allow the spine to move.

Facet joint pain

The usual symptoms linked with facet joint pain include spasm of the muscles that can pull the spine out of its proper alignment, thus triggering back pain.

The facet joint pain can occur from the joint either due to inflammation or impingement of a nerve. The spasm of the adjacent muscles is how the body protects the area and tries to prevent movement to avoid further damage.

The symptoms tend to vary and can be mistaken for disc-related conditions since it is possible for the individual to experience referred pain into the lower extremities. Take note that the customary facet locking syndrome can trigger an acute attack but can be managed effectively by releasing the joint as well as restoring normal functioning.

What is the diagnosis?

The damage on the facet joint can be revealed on an X-ray that is taken from front to back, side to side and obliquely across the affected joint. In some circumstances, a CT scan will be used since this reveals more details of other neighboring structures to rule out other conditions.

If nothing is revealed, an MRI scan will be taken to show any issues with associated structures such as the ligaments and discs of the spine. Other methods that are used involve an injection into the facet joint which is oftentimes called as a facet joint block. The injection consists of a contrast material, cortisone and anesthetic.


There are various treatment options available for facet joint pain. Take note that some work better for some individuals than others. It is important that you contact a medical professional to determine what the best treatment options are for you.

Acute treatment

The initial treatment usually involves rest and placing the individual in a position that he/she is comfortable with and avoiding any further stress. Some doctors will recommend cold therapy while others prefer to use heat therapy. Regardless of the therapy used, an application should last for 15 minutes at a time every couple of hours.

Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can be given. Remember that complete rest for a week is not advisable. It is recommended that the individual will engage in gentle movements within a day or so.

Further treatment

After the acute phase has passed, other forms of treatment particularly sports massage can help ease the connected spasms. Chiropractic mobilization can be beneficial in order to release the rigid joints and enable improved movement but must be done by a healthcare professional. Exercises can help improve the posture of the individual and strengthen the back and core muscles.


2 Responses to “What is facet joint pain?”

  1. Mia Boyd April 3, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks for the information. To be honest, I have the worst habit of sitting in chairs poorly and also craning my neck to look at my phone. It’s really starting to take a gnarly affect on my back. It seems like I struggle with back pain on a regular basis. It would be nice to get rid of the pain. I’m going to look into the facet injections that you’ve mentioned.

    • vanfirstaid April 10, 2015 at 1:07 pm #

      Remember to contact a medical professional to determine the best treatment options for you.

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