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Facet Joint Syndrome

Peer Reviewed

Is a common cause of pain related to the spine. The facet joints are the articulations or connections between the vertebraes in the spine. They are like any other joint in the body like the knee or elbow that enable the bending or twisting movements of the spine. The facet joints can get inflamed secondary to injury or arthritis and cause pain and stiffness. When the facet joints are affected in the neck or cervical spine it typically causes pain in this area as well headaches and difficulty rotating the head.

People who suffer from this problem usually complain that they have to turn their entire body to look over to the right or left. Pain can be felt in other areas such as the shoulders or midback area. Low back pain is commonly caused by Facet Joint Syndrome. Pain is felt in the lower back and sometimes it can be felt in the buttock as well in the thighs usually not going below the knee. Inflammation of these joints can cause stiffness and difficulty standing up straight and getting up out of a chair.

People who suffer from this problem typically complain that they walk in a hunched over position. The diagnosis is usually made by a physician knowledgeable in spinal disorders like an orthopedic surgeon or pain management specialist. The diagnosis is confirmed by an injection of local anesthetic and an anti-inflammatory medication into the joints that are affected. Relief of pain can be dramatic immediately following this procedure.

For chronic cases of facet joint syndrome, where the pain relief from the injections is short lived a procedure called Radiofrequency Rhizotomy can be performed. This procedure should be performed by a pain management physician with experience in this type of procedure. There are nerves that arise from the facet joints that carry the painful impulses to the brain. This transmission can be blocked by heating these nerve by radiofrequency waves. The pain relief from this procedure usually lasts around 6 months to 2 years.

Updated on: 01/12/10
Kern A. Olson, PhD
The majority of chronic pain patients that walk through the door present with significant psychological overlay that can influence the outcome of the above procedures outlined by Dr. Rodrigues. Costello's data would suggest it may be as high as 90% present with significant psychological overlay. The bottom line is that when you treat chronic pain you need to treat the whole patient and the perception of pain that is expressed.
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