A facet joint is formed by a superior and inferior articulating process. There are two facet joints at each spinal level, on the right and left and towards the rear of the vertebrae. Like any joint, facet joints can suffer from degenerative change or become stiff.
Cause: Stiff facet joints may arise due to trauma, poor posture or lack of use. Degenerative facet joints typically occur to to natural wear and tear by may be accelerated by poor posture, occupational demands and lifestyle factors.
Symptoms: When stiff, facet joints typically cause local pain and restricted movement. Often movement towards the painful side or backward movement/extension is painful, as it compresses the joint surfaces. Arthritic change of the facet joints presents mainly with stiffness, at least in the early stages. Because of their close proximity to spinal nerves, facet joint problems can cause compression or irritation of nerve and as a result, numbness, tingling and pain referred into the shoulder and arm or hip and leg.
Treatment: Stiff facet joints can be treated very effectively by prescribing appropriate movements that can ‘unlock’ the joint or they can be mobilised or manipulated. If facet joints require ongoing manipulation it’s likely the cause of your problem has not been addressed. Stiff facet joints should become free from restriction within 1 – 3 treatments. Degenerative or arthritic facet joints will not respond rapidly to treatment and may require more regular treatment, however, it important that you are shown appropriate exercises to maintain mobility and reduce pain. Generally, patients with facet joint problems have pain in the back or buttock and are worse standing, walking, running and performing backward bending activities such as fast bowling. Pain is often eased by sitting and forward bending. Arthritis may require ongoing management and appropriate exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are extremely important.