Facet Joint Osteoarthritis

Facet Joint Pain

Each vertebra of the spine connects through a facet joint. The function of the facet joints is to stabilize the movements of the spine. The surface of a healthy facet joint is covered with a smooth layer of cartilage. Strain and wear on the joint surface can cause the cartilage to become inflamed and the joint capsule surrounding the joint to stiffen. Facet pain can be caused by a variety of factors, such as osteoarthritis of the facet joints, ankylosing spondylitis, which causes inflammation in the facet joints, or locked facet joint that may be due to a movement disorder, poor/static posture, or improper strain on the back.

Facet joint pain often begins suddenly and can occur throughout the spine. Usually, the pain is more severe in back bends than in the forward bends of the spine and may worsen when walking or standing for a long period of time.

Back pain due to facet joints most often occurs when the joint coils or twists during movement of the spine. In this case, the stiffened joint may become stuck or locked. The muscles surrounding a stuck or blocked facet joint often cramp up, causing muscle pain and restricted mobility in the injured area.

Common Facet Joint Osteoarthritis symptoms

  • Sudden severe pain and/or limited mobility in the back
  • The pain intensifies while bending the back
  • The pain may get worse when walking or standing for a long period of time
  • The pain is unilateral and radiates to the buttocks, hips, or sides of the thighs

Treatment of Facet Joint Osteoarthritis

  • In an acute situation, pain can be relieved with over-the-counter painkillers
  • Cold/heat therapy can temporarily help to relieve pain
  • Movement within own pain tolerance

Facet joint pain often does not ease on its own but should be actively treated with exercises that strengthen the back muscles and improve spinal mobility and posture. You will receive individual exercise instructions from your physiotherapist to relieve the pain and prevent its recurrence.