Facet Joint Syndrome, also called facet joint sprain is a common cause of back pain. The facet joints, also termed zygapophyseal joints, are located at the back of the spine. There are two joints at each level, one on either side of the spine.
The facet joints are classified as synovial joints and are enclosed within a joint capsule. There is synovial fluid within the capsule and the joint surfaces are covered with hyaline cartilage. The role of the facet joints is to control excessive movement especially in rotation and extension, and therefore provide stability for the spine.
Injuries to the facet joints can have many causes, but essentially it is a sprain and as such, it is caused by excessive movement causing damage to the joint capsule, which in turn cause swelling, inflammation and pain. The pain in turn causes a reactive muscle spasm, which is a protective mechanism. The result is a sudden severe pain and inability to move comfortably.
Most injuries are caused by what is called recurrent micro-trauma, it means many small repetitive injuries, until the proverbial ‘last straw’. That is why people often hurt themselves doing very trivial things such as bending to pick up a pen, and they hurt themselves before they even get to lift the pen.
The initial treatment involves avoiding the movements that cause the joints to be painful, but prolonged rest is not advisable. Once the diagnosis is made the appropriate treatment can be given.
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