Facet joint pain is a recurring problem in the neck and lower back, and the symptoms can be very serious. In fact, they can be disabling. However, facet joint problems don’t involve the spinal nerves as some conditions do. The symptoms can mimic those of a herniated disc when inflammation in the joint is at its peak. It can also imitate an infection, torn muscle, or fraction. Regardless, it is very painful, and it can be frightening to experience. Nonetheless, these conditions can mimic facet joint problems, which is why it is important to seek medical assistance as soon as you notice something is wrong.
Symptoms of Facet Joint Pain
If you notice any of the following symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible:
- Acute episodes of intermittent pain that occur a few times in a month or a year.
- Persistent tenderness over the facet joint, which means it is inflamed and some flexibility has been lost in the spinal muscle.
- Discomfort while leaning forward or backward.
- Low back pain that radiates down the buttocks and into the back of the thigh.
- If a cervical facet joint is affected, the pain will radiate into the upper back or shoulders.
- Standing is limited when the pain is in the lumbar spine.
- Sitting and riding in a car are very painful.
The symptoms can show up frequently, and they are usually unpredictable. There have been times that patients have been told that it’s a psychosomatic issue, or nonexistent. The pain can be so severe, however, that it is definitely “not in the head.”
Diagnosing Facet Joint Pain
When bouts of pain occur, x-rays should be taken and examined. When there are abnormal changes in the facet joints, they can be seen. However, a doctor may order a CT scan because it can obtain more information on the facet joints and the rest of the spine. While an MRI is not always helpful in diagnosing this condition, it can help diagnose any abdominal issues that might be mimicking facet joint pain.
Treating Facet Joint Pain
There are treatments that can give temporary relief. Unfortunately, the relief isn’t always long term. Surgery is a more long-term solution that is ordered when an adjoining disc is degenerating or there are other issues. Bone fusion is a procedure that may be needed to stop the facet joint problem. While surgery may seem extreme to some people, facet joint pain can put a stop to an active lifestyle, which can compromise the quality of life. Surgical intervention is a solution when all nonsurgical treatment options have failed. These treatment options can include physical therapy, heat wraps, working on maintaining good posture, changing daily activities, and using anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation and pain. Chiropractic manipulations may be needed. However, patients with facet joint problems in the neck may need a cervical collar or a special pillow.
While this is a very painful condition, it is one that comes with solutions. If nonsurgical treatment fails, surgical options can offer long-term solutions to the pain. That way, a normal life can be resumed.