Watkins Medical Centre
Level 8, 225 Wickham Terrace,
Spring Hill QLD, 4000

All appointments
Phone: (07) 3831 7034

What is a facet joint ?

The facet joint (also known as the zygapophyseal joint) is a joint between vertebrae. The joint come in pairs - a right and a left. Each vertebrae can move relative to the adjacent vertebrae by means of motion that occurs at the disc and two facet joints. Unlike the disc (which has a unique structure), the facet joints are the same type of joint that is found in other parts of the body. It can therefore suffer similar problems - including arthritic changes. There is an important link between the facet joint and the disc - whatever movement occurs at one must occur at the other. Therefore when the disc wears out, as with disc degeneration,  any new abnormal motion caused by the degenerative disc will also be transferred to the facet joint - hence also making the facet joint arthritic.

The facet joint also has an important function in resisting shear forces that, if unchecked , may lead to one vertebrae slipping forward on another. When a facet joint becomes very degenerative it may allow one vertebrae to slip forward and cause a degenerative spondylolisthesis.

Symptoms of facet joint mediated pain

The facet joint is commonly a source of pain because it is arthritic. Pain is felt when the back is extended (arched backwards). This puts more pressure on the joints. The spine is more extended in the standing position, so standing is usually the most painful posture. The pain can be eased in the flexedposition (bent forward). Therefore sitting is often the most confortable position and relief may be gained by bending forward. Facet pain is usually experienced in the low back, though  pain may be referred to the legs - usually behind the thigh and above the knee.

It can be difficult to diagnose facet pain, though a facet block is a useful diagnostic tool.