Facet Joint Syndrome

Do you feel pain with standing or sitting for too long? Do you feel better with increased movement or as the day progresses? If yes, you may be experiencing what is known as Facet Joint pain.

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Causes of Facet Joint Syndrome

Core weakness of back and abdominal muscles, often in conjunction with tight hip flexors, can underlie this syndrome, especially when there are frequent recurrences. Common causes include poor lifting and bending techniques or activities that cause the spine to over-extend or over-arch. A chronic facet syndrome is often due to arthritis or degenerative changes in the spine leading to too much compression of these lumbar joints. Associated areas of stiffness in the hips or thoracic spine may also lead to excessive pressure on the lumbar facet joints.

A new onset of this type of discomfort can often be attributed to poor lifting and bending techniques, while persistent pain is typically associated with arthritis or normal age-related changes in the spine leading to increased work-load for these joints. Muscle weakness may also play a role in this condition.

  • Core Weakness in Back and Abdominal Muscles
  • Poor Lifting and Bending Techniques
  • Arthritis or Degenerative Spinal Changes
  • Age-Related Changes
  • Other Medical Factors

Symptoms of Facet Joint Syndrome

Facet Syndrome is an irritation of one or more of the spinal joints that can cause pain, soreness, and/or stiffness. Pain is often felt along the center of the low back and typically does not radiate down the leg. Increased pain is often experienced in the mornings, following periods of inactivity and/or with leaning back or to one side, causing a “pinching” sensation in the back.

A facet syndrome is an irritation of one or more joints located on either side of the spinal vertebrae. Symptoms include stiffness, a dull ache radiating to a hip or buttock, or a sharp and catching pain when initially injured. An acute episode can cause significant loss of motion and moderate pain. This is often described as "my back went out".

  • Pain, Soreness, and/or Stiffness
  • Pain in the Center of the Back
  • Increased Pain in the Morning
  • Increased Pain After Inactivity
  • Increased Pain When Leaning To One Side
  • Loss of Motion and Moderate Pain

Diagnosis of Facet Joint Syndrome

During your first session with Results Physiotherapy, your therapist will perform a thorough examination including a review of your medical history and perform a physical exam. Many patients with this condition often complain of discomfort when leaning back and/or to the side, tenderness to touch along the joints of the spine, weakness in abdominal and back/hip muscles, and tightness along the muscles that run near the spine.

Treatment of Facet Joint Syndrome with Physical Therapy

Your Results physical therapist will design an individualized treatment plan which often consists of manual “hands-on” therapy, postural education, and strengthening. Typical manual therapy treatments consist of soft tissue massage and joint movements to specifically stimulate the tissue and, as a result, help decrease the feelings of stiffness and pressure.

Initial treatments will consist of exercises to improve the mobility of the facet joints and will then progress to a program of strength training and control of abdominal, back, and hip muscles.

Effective treatment consists of specific joint mobilization to "open up" or unload the facet joint and take pressure off. Deep soft tissue mobilization to the surrounding muscles reduces pain, stiffness and the tension which results from protective guarding. Initial exercises take pressure off of the facet joint, and a continuing customized exercise program re-educates the core abdominal and back muscles. Research shows this combination of mobilization and strengthening exercise significantly reduces the likely return of symptoms.

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Prevention Tips for Facet Joint Syndrome

The key factors to prevention of facet joint syndrome involve moving often and moving well. Reducing inactivity through strengthening exercises, walking, and light to moderate stretching can be very preventative. At Results Physiotherapy, we believe that people should not have to live with pain and we will do everything we can to help you achieve a healthy, pain-free life.

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