Focus on Facet Joint Syndrome

Today, we’re focusing on Facet Joint Syndrome, a commonly misunderstood source of neck, shoulder and back pain, and often buttock or even leg pain. We’ve chosen this as, interestingly, it is one of the most viewed pages on our website.

Let’s dive in to better understand this condition and how to manage it effectively.

Understanding Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet Joint Syndrome is more than just an ordinary back or neck ache. It occurs when the facet joints in your spine, crucial for stability and movement, become irritated and inflamed due to factors like abnormal loading, injury, stress or arthritis.

Unfortunately, though, these small joints in your lower back can, quite literally become a ‘pain in the backside’ if they become irritated. Not only are they responsible for back pain but often cause ‘referred pain’ that can mimic sciatica in the buttock and back of your thigh.

But probably the worst element of these rather angry little joints, is that things can easily become stuck in a negative feedback loop.

The irritated facet joint causes your body to try to protect itself by trying to stop movement in the joint. But the only way that it can do this is to increase the tension in the muscles and so squeeze the sensitive joint more, leading to further inflammation.

This whole cycle can become very well established and we’ve seen patients that have had this condition undiagnosed for months or even years in some cases.

Recognising Facet Joint Syndrome 🔎

Key identifiers include:

  • ⚡Neck or Back pain is usually worse with standing still but can radiate into the buttock and/or back of the thigh, but not normally past the knee.
  • 👕 Very stiff in the morning, getting out of bed and getting dressed can be a bit of ordeal.
  • 🔀 Pain intensifies with certain movement, particularly twisting or bending backwards.
  • 🛋 Relief when resting or lying down.
Symptoms and Differentiation

Common Symptoms of Facet Joint Syndrome include:

  • ❗Central low back pain
  • ❗Radiating pain into the buttock, back of the upper leg (but rarely past the knee)
  • ❗Low neck pain
  • ❗Dull ache into the shoulder or upper back
Facet Joint Syndrome often manifests as acute episodes of pain which last a week or two, but unfortunately have a bad habit of becoming more frequent over time and then developing into constant pain with no respite apart from medication.

However, it’s important to note:

  • 🔹If you’re experiencing pain radiating down the front of your leg or arm, along with numbness or pins and needles, it’s more likely to be due to a disc problem rather than Facet Joint Syndrome.
  • 🔹Postural changes and muscle guarding occur frequently.
Managing Facet Joint Syndrome

To manage this condition:

  • 🏊‍♀️ Stay Active: Gentle exercises like swimming or yoga can be beneficial. But weight bearing exercises like running should be avoided.
  • 🔥 Heat TherapyApplying heat can help relax tight muscles and give relief.
  • 💼 Professional Consultation: Persistent or worsening symptoms warrant a visit to a healthcare practitioner that is skilled and experienced at diagnosing and dealing with these often nasty conditions.

Sussex Back Pain Clinic’s Approach

Our comprehensive approach includes osteopathy and physiotherapy, along with exercises and personalised advice, to alleviate your symptoms by decreasing the load through the irritated facet joints as well as getting the localised muscle spasm to properly relax to improve your quality of life.


Self-Help Corner: The Rocking Exercise

This is a great, simple and effective exercise to get your facet joints moving better safely.

Keep your back mobile with All 4s Rocking

  • How to Do It: Start on your hands and knees in an all 4s position. Gently look up towards the ceiling and then rock back to get your backside onto your heels whilst letting your spine roll into a ball to get your chin into your chest.
  • Repetitions: Begin with 6, build to 10-12 over weeks. Do this 3-4 times daily. No pain should be felt and it should be smooth and effortless. If you feel any pain – don’t continue, instead contact us for advice.
    • Watch the exercise below ⬇️

Disclaimer: These exercises are supportive strategies for facet joint syndrome. Always consult a healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise regimen.

IDD Therapy for Chronic Symptoms

For symptoms persisting over three months, it may be that you’re stuck in a negative pain cycle and you’ll need a more intensive treatment to help.

IDD Therapy offers a non-invasive treatment alternative, decompressing the facet joints and breaking the pain cycle, focusing on long-term relief.

Your Journey Towards Relief

If it sounds like you may have Facet Joint Syndrome, get in touch, we’re here to help you recover with a thorough evaluation, a proper diagnosis and an effective treatment plan and we deal with conditions like Facet Joint Syndrome every day. You can reply to this email or give us a call on 01273 725667.

Take care and remember, we’re here to help you on your journey to better health!

Warm regards as always,

Steve Morris and the Sussex Back Pain Clinic Team


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