Facet joint pain

Facet joint pain

Each vertebra in the spine is connected to another through a facet joint. The role of facet joints is to stabilize spinal movements. Strain and wear on the joint surface can cause inflammation and stiffness of the joint capsule surrounding the joint. Facet joint pain can have various causes, such as degeneration of the facet joints, spinal arthritis causing inflammation in the facet joints, or facet lock, which can be caused a disruption in movement control, poor/static posture, or incorrect loading.


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Facet joint pain often starts suddenly and can occur throughout the entire spine.

The pain is typically more intense during backward bending of the spine than forward bending. It may worsen while walking or standing for prolonged periods.

Pain originating from facet joints most commonly occurs when the joint twists or rotates during spinal movements. In such cases, a stiffened joint can become jammed or locked. The muscles surrounding the jammed or locked facet joint often go into spasms, causing muscle pain and limited movement in the affected area.


Common symptoms of facet joint pain

Typical symptoms of facet joint pain include:

  • Sudden and intense pain and/or restricted movement in the back.
  • Pain intensifies during backward bending of the spine.
  • Pain may worsen while walking or standing for prolonged periods.
  • Pain is usually one-sided and radiates to the buttocks, hip, or side of the thigh.

Treatment of facet joint pain

  • In acute situations, pain can be relieved with over-the-counter pain medication.
  • Cold or heat therapy may provide temporary relief for pain.
  • Engaging in movement within the limits of pain tolerance.

Facet joint pain often does not improve on its own, and active treatment is necessary to improve spinal mobility and posture through exercises and strengthening of the back muscles. It is important to continue with daily activities and using the back, in appropriate doses, despite the pain. A physiotherapist can provide individualized exercise instructions to alleviate pain and prevent its recurrence.