Understanding Facet Joint Pain: Differences from Other Back Issues and Aggravating Factors

Facet joint back pain. A picture of someone with facet joint pain

Introduction

Back pain is one of the most common problems in the United States, and facet joint pain is a prevalent cause of back pain. It is estimated that 80% of the population will suffer from back pain at one point throughout their life. Some estimates indicate that facet joint pain is responsible for between 15% to 41% of back pain. The facet joints are the main synovial joints of the spine, responsible for preventing the vertebrae from going too far into extension or rotation. The facet joint is made up of the zygomatic process from one vertebra to the vertebra directly above or below it. In between the zygomatic processes, there is cartilage. This cartilage includes a disk-like cushioning as well as ligaments that connect one process to the other. This cartilage in the joint, in general, can become inflamed and cause localized pain. This type of pain is called facetogenic pain. This article aims to shed light on the differences between facet joint pain and other back issues, emphasizing conservative treatments to alleviate discomfort.

Facet Joint Pain vs. Other Back Issues

Definition and Causes: Understanding Facet Joint Pain Causes

Facet joint pain, otherwise known as facetogenic pain, is pain that originates from the facet joint. Most commonly, this pain directly stems from inflammation inside the joint capsule. This can occur after repetitive forces overwork the joint, a lack of movement of the joint, or a quick, semi-violent compression of the joint. Unlike muscle strains or herniated discs, facet pain is specific to these joints.

 

Symptoms Comparison: Distinguishing Symptoms – Facet Joint Pain vs. Other Back Issues

While different causes of back pain can have overlapping symptomatology, each cause of back pain generally will have telltale symptoms that are more specific to the individual cause. Facet joint pain has its own unique set of symptomatology. For facet joint pain, the pain is often localized, as opposed to a herniation or strain, which can be more generalized. Facet joint pain is unlikely to radiate. It commonly will be caused by taking the back into extension or into rotation. Sometimes the pain will be described as stiff, achy, or tight. Often times, patients can identify a causative factor. This means that patients will often be able to remember a specific incident that caused their back pain to start.

 

Diagnostic Methods: Accurate Diagnosis – Facet Joint Pain vs. Other Back Problems

Facet joint pain can be diagnosed through a physical examination and a thorough history. A comprehensive history, along with an in-depth physical examination, is generally sufficient to determine when facet joint pain is occurring. Often, patients will recall a specific event triggering the pain, and they may experience discomfort during extension and rotation. Orthopedic tests, such as extension with rotation tests and Kemp’s test, are fairly effective at diagnosing facet joint pain.

However, the gold standard to confirm a diagnosis of facet joint pain is to perform a facet joint block. During a facet joint block, lidocaine is injected into the joint. If the lidocaine alleviates the back pain, it serves as a strong indicator that the pain is originating from the facet joint. Although this testing is often unnecessary, it can be conducted for more advanced cases of facet joint pain. Sometimes, a steroid may also be administered with the lidocaine injection to provide a therapeutic effect.

Aggravating Factors for Facet Joint Pain

Lifestyle and Activities: Impact of Lifestyle Choices on Facet Joint Pain

One’s lifestyle can play a large role in causing and exacerbating facet joint pain. Facet joint pain can be triggered by prolonged periods of inactivity. Therefore, individuals who perform desk jobs or are generally inactive have a higher likelihood of experiencing facet joint pain. Other causes of facet joint pain may include excessive extension or rotation. Consequently, engaging in hobbies that involve these movements, such as weightlifting, football, and gymnastics, can make someone more prone to facet joint pain. Implementing lifestyle modifications is an effective way to address facet joint pain. While, in many cases, it may be impossible to completely eliminate certain lifestyle factors, they can be modified to reduce the stress placed on the facet joint.

 

Obesity and Its Impact: Weight and Stress – How Obesity Aggravates Facet Joint Pain

Excess weight adds strain to the facet joints, worsening inflammation and discomfort. Conservative treatments for facet joint pain may include weight management strategies, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight to reduce stress on the spine.

Coping Strategies and Prevention for Facet Joint Pain

Pain Management Techniques: Non-surgical Methods – Managing Facet Joint Pain

The most effective way to manage facet joint pain is most often conservative treatment. Conservative treatment typically involves manual therapy to the affected area to loosen up the muscles surrounding the joint and improve joint mobility. Chiropractic manipulation is a beneficial form of manual therapy that can help loosen up the joint and enhance its movement. Additionally, targeted exercises are often prescribed to manage pain and improve mobility. The overall objective of conservative treatment is to strengthen and increase the flexibility of the muscles and joints surrounding the affected area, ultimately providing long-term relief.

Preventive Measures: Habits for a Healthy Back – Preventing Facet Joint Pain

It is not possible to entirely eliminate the possibility of experiencing facet joint pain; however, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risk. Adopting healthy habits, including regular movement, a nutritious diet, and a strength training regimen, are all effective ways to lower the risk of facet joint pain. These practices contribute to reducing inflammation in the area and maintaining flexibility and mobility. Taking a lifestyle approach is an excellent way to decrease the likelihood of not only experiencing facet pain but also mitigating the risk of low back pain in general.

 

If Facetogenic Pain is the Cause of Your Back Pain, We Can Help

As a primary spine practitioner, Dr. Tauberg, DC, is an expert in treating facet joint pain. Understanding the distinctions between facet joint pain and other back issues is crucial for effective treatment. Dr. Tauberg often incorporates lifestyle modifications, targeted exercises, preventive measures, and manual therapy to manage facet joint pain. This holistic approach is not only effective in eliminating facet pain but also in reducing the risk of future occurrences. If you are experiencing back pain, click the button below to schedule a free phone consultation with Dr. Tauberg. During this consultation, you will discuss how your back pain is impacting your life, explore available treatment options, establish your treatment goals, and formulate a plan to achieve those goals.