In the human body, joints connect two or more bones. Their primary purpose is to allow motion between those bones. We all think of joints as our knees, hips, or shoulders, but there are lots of joints throughout the body. Think of everything from the temporomandibular joint that allows your jawbone to move to the intervertebral discs that form joints between your various vertebrae.
But there’s another joint in our spine that you may not know about, the facet joints. In our spine, the facet joints connect each of the vertebrae on the backside and, like all joints, promote healthy movement and provide stability.
When the facet joints deteriorate, facet joint syndrome develops. This can lead to various chronic pain situations. In these two toasty August blogs, let’s get into facet joint syndrome.
What are the facet joints?
To allow our spinal column to bend, twist, and handle loads, the vertebrae need help. The intervertebral discs separate the 24 top moveable vertebrae in the cervical (neck) region (vertebrae C1-C7), the thoracic (mid back) region (vertebrae T1-T12), and the lumbar (low back) region (vertebrae L1-L5). There are another nine vertebrae in the sacrum and coccyx regions, but they are fused together by the time we reach adulthood. The discs have the job of providing cushioning between the vertebrae. They also work as spacers, keeping the vertebrae the proper distances away from each other.
The discs work with the facet joints to allow more complex movement. The facet joints are located at the back of the vertebrae, in line with the discs. Two facet joints (one on each side) separate the spinous process back portion of the vertebrae where the vertebrae are basically connected.
The facet joints allow your back and neck to bend forward and backward. Think of them as allowing the vertebrae to tilt upward and downward.
What happens to the facet joints?
The facet joints are susceptible to degradation and become the cause of much spine-related pain. The facet joints located in the lumbar spine (lower back) are most susceptible to facet joint syndrome, as the lumbar spine bears the most weight and endures the greatest amount of strain. However, facet joints located in your cervical (neck) and thoracic (mid back) spine may also cause chronic pain.
Facet joint syndrome comes from degradation of these joints. In the lumbar spine, this degradation is typically a result of the degenerative effects of aging. Years of strain and activity create problems with both the discs and the facet joints. As we age, our discs become less and less gel-like as they lose moisture. This causes them to become thinner (as an interesting side note, this is why we shrink as we age). This thinning of the discs affects the normal alignment of the facet joints at the back of the vertebrae, leading to abnormal stress and wear. This leads to low back pain.
In the cervical and thoracic facet joints, facet joint syndrome isn’t usually due to the degradation over time. It is more typically the result of trauma, such as whiplash in a car accident or a sports injury. These conditions will lead chronic pain from the facet joints.
In this month’s second blog, we’ll get into some symptoms and treatments that Dr. Trujillo uses to treat his patient’s facet joint syndrome.
Are you suffering from chronic pain? Call us at Summit Healthcare Pain Clinic, (855) 768-4968, and let’s see how we can help.