Facet syndrome (FS) is a pattern of back pain (sometimes with buttock and leg pain) that is generated by a unique set of joints between each vertebrae, called the facet joints. Facet joints occur in pairs at each vertebral level. The facet joints work with the corresponding disc to link the vertebrae directly above and below to form a working unit that lends stability and weight-bearing capacity while permitting flexibility and movement of the spine. Pain from facet syndrome is often experienced in the vicinity of the inflamed joint, though occasionally the pain spreads away from the spine several inches or more, sometimes into the limbs.
What are the causes?
An injury and/or changes associated with aging often provoke the cartilaginous surfaces of the facet joints to become inflamed or to wear away, causing pain as friction increases within the joint space. Loss of disc height due to degenerative disc disease will sometimes result in stress on the facets at the same level, and ultimately FS.
What treatment options are available?
At PainCare, a frequently used treatment for facet syndrome is anesthetic and steroid injections under x-ray guidance (fluoroscopy).
If this treatment provides only short term relief, the nerve endings to these joints can be very safely destroyed (thus providing longer-term relief) using a technique called radiofrequency lesioning. Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, physical therapy, manipulation, and massage therapy, may also be useful. Above all, a lifelong program of graded back exercises is an important component of treatment to ensure maximum flexibility and function.