What is Facet Syndrome?

Facet joints are the joints between two vertebrae in your spine that allow and support movement such as bending and twisting. These joints can become inflamed resulting in restricted movement, pain and stiffness. Pain stemming from these joints is commonly referred to as ‘Facet joint syndrome’.

The facet joints have been found to account for 15-45% of low back pain and 40-55% of neck pain cases (Bykowski & Wong, 2012)

CAUSES (Alexander & Dulebohn, 2017)

  • Abnormal postures may overload the joints
  • Trauma such as whiplash
  • Constant and repetitive motion may cause wear and tear of the joints (For e.g. playing sports, heavy labour)
  • Degenerative changes in the spine due to aging, trauma or injury


The location of pain or stiffness may vary depending on the location of the affected facet joint and can result in: (Kirpalani & Mitra, 2008), (Saravanakumar & Harvey, 2008)

  • Neck, mid-back or low-back pain and stiffness
  • Radiating pain in the shoulders, upper arms, buttocks or thighs
  • Difficulty bending and twisting
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty getting out of a chair or standing up straight
  • Pain with periods of inactivity such as sitting or standing for too long
  • Numbness, tingling and weakness in the arms or legs


Diagnosis begins with a thorough history and hands-on clinical examination by an experienced health care practitioner. In some cases X-rays, MRI and/or CT scans may be required to confirm the diagnosis.

Management of facet syndrome is usually multimodal and conservative treatment has been associated with a reduction in pain levels and improvements in spinal functioning. (Binder & Nampiaparampil, 2009), (Saravanakumar & Harvey, 2008)

Alexander CE, Dulebohn SC. Lumbosacral Facet Syndrome. [Updated 2017 Nov 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441906/

Binder DS, Nampiaparampil DE. (2009). The provocative lumbar facet joint. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med, 2(1), 15-24. doi: 10.1007/s12178-008-9039-y

Bykowski JL, Wong WHW. (2012). Role of Facet Joints in Spine Pain and Image Guided Treatment: A Review. AJNR, 33(8), 1419-1426. doi: https://doi.org/10.3174/ajnr.A2696

Kirpalani D, Mitra R. (2008). Cervical Facet Joint Dysfunction: A Review. Arch Phys Med Rehabil, 89, 770-773. doi:10.1016/j.apmr.2007.11.028

Saravanakumar K, Harvey A. (2008). Lumbar Zygapophyseal (Facet) Joint Pain. Rev Pain, 2(1), 8-13. doi: 10.1177/204946370800200103