Facet joints, also called zygapophyseal joints, are located at the back of the spine which connects the vertebrae together. There are two joints between each pair of vertebrae located on either side of the spine. The facet joints provide stability for the spine.
Facet joint arthritis also known as facet joint syndrome is a form of arthritis that affects the facet joints of the spine. This condition is related to the ageing process. Facet joints are synovial joints. Normally the facet joints are lined by a cartilage and a membrane of synovium.
Loss of cartilage and synovial fluid in these joints causes friction due to contact between the bones. This results in development of osteophytes or bone spurs on or around the facet joints. Bone spurs are the bony growth formed along the edges of the bones.
Classical symptoms are pain and swelling around the joint. If a cervical joint is affected, the pain is usually felt over the neck radiating to the shoulder. If the joint is in the back, the pain is felt in the lower back that radiates to the buttocks and upper thigh area.
A diagnosis of facet joint arthritis is confirmed by injecting a small amount of a combination of x-ray contrast material, local anesthesia and corticosteroid into the joint. Relief of pain after the injection confirms the diagnosis of facet joint arthritis.
In most cases, symptoms can be (managed) controlled by using conservative (line of management) treatment such as pain medication, use of braces, exercise, and corticosteroid injections. Surgery may be considered if conservative therapy does not show positive results.