A Common Cause of Neck and Back Pain
If you’re experiencing persistent, chronic pain in any part of your spine, from your neck to your lower back, you may be suffering from facet syndrome, one of the most common causes of back pain.When seen in adults over age 50, facet syndrome, which is usually caused by normal wear and tear, results in arthritis; however, it can also occur at a younger age from injury or overuse.
How Does Facet Syndrome Develop?
Facet syndrome can occur anywhere in the spine. It develops in the small joints located between each vertebra called facet joints. These joints are in constant motion, providing the spine with both the stability and flexibility needed to walk, run, bend, sit, and twist. The joint surfaces are lined with cartilage allowing them to glide easily over each other. As we age, the cartilage gradually wears away, and in many cases, growths called “bone spurs” can develop. Friction between the bones leads to the tenderness, swelling, stiffness, and pain of arthritis. Though generally the result of the natural aging process, the initial cause of arthritis, or facet syndrome, may be an injury or overuse in youth.
Risk Factors for Facet Syndrome
When a joint is damaged through normal deterioration, injury, or repetitive trauma, it may become swollen, painful, and stiff. Inflammation is usually temporary, but in arthritic joints, it may cause long-lasting or permanent disability. In addition to age, other risk factors for facet syndrome include:
- Excessive weight
- Overuse due to sports or heavy labor
- Family history of facet syndrome
- Presence of disease such as gout, other types of arthritis, or infections
- Damage may stem from injuries, including whiplash, sleeping with a twisted neck
- Or also a sudden jerk of the neck, twisting while lifting overhead, or trauma to the spine
Symptoms of Facet Syndrome
At first, you may simply experience an aching feeling in your neck or back that fades and returns again after overuse. Eventually, as the disease progresses, the pain occurs more frequently and lasts longer. One joint may be affected initially, but with time and continued activity more joints may deteriorate as well. Generally, there is a persistent tenderness over the irritated joint, some loss of flexibility, and pain that is aggravated by stretching or turning. Other symptoms vary depending on the location of the affected joint and may include:
- Pain that is often worse in the beginning and end of the day or with a change in weather
- Lower back pain that radiates into the buttocks, pelvic area, or thighs
- Neck pain that radiates into the shoulders, arms, or head
- Headaches at the base of the skull, aching behind the eyes, and/or ringing in the ears
- The sound of bone rubbing on bone when you move
- Abnormal curvature in the spine
- Weakness or numbness in your legs or arms
- Standing has some effect on facet joint pain
- Sitting or riding in the car for long periods of time can also significantly exacerbate the condition