Facet Joint Syndrome: What It Is and How It’s Diagnosed


Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints heard in doctors’ offices. Though a variety of things can cause it, doctors frequently look for a condition known as facet joint syndrome. The syndrome is most likely to be experienced as a person ages. Facet joint syndrome is often the result of normal wear and tear on the bones.

There is no cure for facet joint syndrome, according to the specialists at Lone Star Pain Medicine. The Weatherford, TX pain clinic does say that the pain can be managed with a combination of exercise, pain medication, and steroid injections.

The Facet Joints

The human spine is made up of a number or bones that run along the spinal column. The joints in between those bones are known as facets. Facet joint syndrome is a condition in which one or more of the joints becomes inflamed. The inflammation presses on nerves in the spinal column, thereby sending pain signals to the brain.

Interestingly, many facet joint syndrome patients report that they find at least some relief by bending over forward. This tends to stretch out the lower back, thereby relieving pressure on the affected nerves. Facet joint pain also tends to be more severe in the morning or immediately following strenuous exercise.

Symptoms of facet joint syndrome include:

  • localized or radiating pain
  • joint tenderness
  • joint stiffness
  • abnormal posture.

Like many other joint-related issues, not seeking treatment for facet joint syndrome can lead to increased pain. Likewise, maintaining a sedentary lifestyle can make pain worse. Normal treatment goals include weight management and regular exercise.

How the Condition Is Diagnosed

It is difficult to diagnose facet joint syndrome just by observing symptoms. Many other conditions produce similar symptoms, and lower back pain is one of the most common complaints around. When a GP or family doctor cannot figure it out, a referral to a pain specialist may be in order.

At Lone Star Pain Medicine, doctors utilize a procedure known as a medial branch nerve block. Although the procedure can offer significant pain relief, it is not a permanent fix for facet joint syndrome. It is used only for diagnostic purposes.

The procedure involves injecting and anesthetic into the affected joint. If the problem truly is facet joint syndrome, the anesthetic temporarily numbs the effected joint and its surrounding nerves. Immediate pain relief tells the doctor that facet joint syndrome is the correct diagnosis. If no pain relief is experienced, it is time to look for some other cause.

A medial branch nerve block is a tried-and-true procedure that has been safely utilized for years. It is an outpatient procedure that takes only a few minutes to complete. The only real risk is minor: the possibility of infection at the injection site.

Long Term Pain Management

Once again, there is no cure for facet joint syndrome. But with long term pain management strategies in place, patients can live normal lives that are mostly pain free. But to get there, patients need to work with their doctors and follow the advice given. Worn out facet joints with a tendency for becoming inflamed will continue to cause pain if a patient doesn’t cooperate.

You now know what facet joint syndrome is. If you are experiencing chronic pain in your lower back or the base of your neck, one or more of the facet joints could be inflamed. A medial branch nerve block would confirm such a diagnosis and give your doctor a plan of attack moving forward. Then it is a matter of working out a treatment plan to minimize your pain.

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