The small joints connecting each of the vertebrae in the spine are known as facet joints. Nerve roots pass through these joints and go from the spinal cord to the arms, legs, and other parts of the body. Each of these facet joints provides flexibility to allow the spine to bend and rotate and stability to prevent excessive motion.
Facet arthritis happens when the cartilage that covers the ends of the joints wears out and becomes thin. This can contribute to the growth of osteophytes (bone spurs) and hypertrophy (enlargement) of the joints.
Facet joints can become irritated and inflamed as a result of this arthritis or from injury. This condition is the leading cause of back pain and is known as facet joint syndrome.
Facet joint syndrome pain is often experienced when bending backwards or twisting your back or torso. Sufferers often have pain and stiffness to the degree that it is difficult to stand up or get out of a chair. The pain is often felt in the spine near the joint, but it can also diffuse to other locations.
Pain from the lumbar (low back) facet joing may radiate toward the buttock, hip, or thigh. In the upper back, the pain can be felt in the neck, shoulders and back of the skull. The pain is often worse with certain movements or after a period of inactivity or sleep.
Facet joint syndrome occurs in both men and women. It is most common between the ages of 40 and 70 and in those prone to arthritis. It also may develop in people who’ve had a spine injury.