What is Facet Syndrome?

Facets are the bony, wing-like protrusions extending from the back of the vertebrae that align with facets on the vertebrae above and below, and give the spine a more diverse range of motion.  Facets function as guides for the spine and are not designed for bearing weight like vertebrae and discs.  Joining adjacent facets are small ligaments called facet joints.  Facet syndrome involves inflammation of the facet joints.  It is one of the lesser-known but surprisingly common causes of back pain.

Bearing the Brunt of Unhealthy Discs

When a person is standing upright, the facet joints bear about 16% of the normal compressive forces of the spine.  With disc height loss of 1-3mm, the compressive load can be five times the normal amount of the facet joints.  Bearing the brunt of all that weight can lead to tearing or degeneration of the ligaments, as well as inflammation of surrounding tissues.  Adhesions over the joint surface can form over time, leading to loss of mobility and breakdown of facet cartilage.  An indicative symptom is a deep ache in the lower back that may extend to the buttocks, hip, and even below the knee.  Facet syndrome is often associated with degenerative disc disease and soft tissue damage in the lumbar spine.