How is facet joint disease treated?

The facet joints are located between the vertebrae of each segment of the spine. Osteoarthritis can develop in these joints and may be called facet joint disease or facet osteoarthritis. Learn about this condition and possible recommended treatments.

Anatomy of the facet joints

The facet joints are located at the back of the spine. There are 24 vertebrae above the sacrum (coccyx) that form the human spine. There are two facet joints between the vertebrae along each spinal segment of the spine.

The facet joints and discs form a three-joint complex between adjacent vertebrae. The facet joint has two bony surfaces with cartilage between them and a ligamentous sac surrounding it.

Synovial fluid lubricates joints, just like other joints such as the knee. The facet joints help maintain proper alignment of the vertebrae and limit movement.

facet joint disease symptoms

Pain is the main symptom associated with facet joint disease. The pain is usually worse in the afternoon and evening and when you wake up in the morning. Pain associated with facet joint disease may be exacerbated by twisting or bending backwards.

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Low back pain is the most common complaint, but it usually does not radiate down the legs or buttocks unless spinal stenosis is also involved.


Facet joint disease is a degenerative arthritis that affects the facet joints of the spine. Arthritis of the facet joints can develop from:

  • Wear and tear reduces the space between the vertebrae, causing the facet joints to rub against each other
  • previous back injury
  • fracture
  • ligament tear
  • disc problem

Due to the extra stress caused by these conditions affecting the facet joints, bone spurs (also called osteophytes) can develop and the cartilage can deteriorate.

In addition to being due to injury, facet joint disease is a condition of aging. The main cause of facet joint disease is spinal degeneration, which usually occurs in later life.


X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to help diagnose facet joint disease.

Another more specific procedure involves the use of fluoroscopy for guided injection. Inject drugs and dyes. The dye allows a healthcare provider to see where the needle and injection were made. If the facet joint is injected and the pain is relieved, this helps confirm the diagnosis of facet joint disease.

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Initially, a health care provider may recommend a period of rest to relieve symptoms. Sleeping positions that reduce stress on the facet joints may be recommended, such as sleeping curled up or lying on your back, knees up and pillows underneath.

Oral medications may be prescribed, including:

  • Tylenol (acetaminophen)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • muscle relaxant
  • corticosteroids

Other treatment options include:

  • traction
  • Strengthening and Cardio
  • hydrotherapy
  • spine manipulation

active treatment

If conservative measures fail, your healthcare provider may recommend the following treatments:

  • An injection of anesthesia or steroid medication into the facet joints or nerves to remove the facet joints may be tried.
  • Sinus vertebral nerve ablation, which destroys nerves with electrical current, may be an option.

surgical options

Surgical options for the treatment of facet joint disease include:

  • Facet neurectomy: Severing one of the nerves that connects the facet joint.
  • Fusion: Fusing two or more vertebrae to eliminate movement of the facet joints. Sometimes facet joints are removed during spinal fusion.
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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between arthropathy and arthropathy?

    Arthropathy refers to any type of disease that affects the joints, such as arthritis. These are often associated with joint swelling, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Arthropathy is another name for osteoarthritis (OA), which is a different type of joint disease. OA can cause joint instability, joint pain or tenderness, and joint cracking, rubbing, or popping sensations, among other symptoms.

  • What is lumbar facet joint disease?

    Lumbar facet joint disease is a type of osteoarthritis that causes low back pain, especially in the lumbar spine. People 65 and older are at the highest risk, but lumbar facet disease can affect anyone. People with a high body mass index (BMI) also have an increased risk.