What Do Facet Joints Do?

By The Spine Center

When you think about your joints, you probably think about big joints, like your hips or shoulders or knees. Maybe you remember the smaller joints, including your fingers and toes. But you probably never realized that your spine has joints, too, until they started to hurt.

The spine experts at The Spine Center at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge in Baton Rouge, Walker, and Prairieville, Louisiana, offer facet joint injections to reduce pain caused by inflammation or arthritis in these important joints. If you want to know about facet joints and how they affect your mobility, read on.

Facet joints let your spine flex and straighten

Just as your knee and elbow joints let you flex and straighten your legs and arms, your facet joints endow your spine with flexibility and mobility. Each one of your vertebrae has two sets of facet joints. One set faces upward and connects with the vertebra above. The other faces downward and connects with the vertebra below.

If your vertebrae didn’t have facet joints, you wouldn’t be able to lean forward, back, or side-to-side. You also wouldn’t be able to twist. Your facet joints not only lend your spine flexibility, they help distribute the load of your body weight as well as any loads you choose to carry.

You have facet joints in every part of your spine, from the lower back region (i.e., lumbar) to the mid-back (i.e., thoracic) to your neck (i.e., cervical). Like the other portions of your vertebrae, the facet joints also protect your spinal cord. The spinal cord runs through the tunnel created by the space between the facet joints and the body of each vertebra.

In addition, the facet joints keep your spine stable. Because each set interlocks with another set above or below it, they limit just how far your spine can bend.

Facet joints have soft tissues, too

Just like your other joints, facet joints are encapsulated by a tissue called the synovium. The synovium produces and releases a lubricating fluid called synovial fluid that allows your facet joints to move smoothly, without friction.

The facet joints also have cartilage, which separates them from one another so they don’t grind bone-on-bone. As in your other joints, the cartilage is a soft tissue that also absorbs shocks.

If you have arthritis, the cartilage and the synovial tissue may break down in your facet joints. Without the shock-absorbing qualities of the cartilage, or the lubrication provided by synovial fluid, your facet joints may rub together when you bend, straighten, or twist your spine.

Unfortunately, if you have arthritis or other inflammation in your facet joints, it may start to limit your movements. Not only does that restrict your daily activities, it actually can create even more problems in your back. 

Without movement, your synovium doesn’t produce the lubrication you need to let your joints stay fluid. As a result, they start to stiffen and become more difficult — and painful — to move.

Facet joint injections can help

If your spine expert determines that you have problems with your facet joints that are causing your back pain, they may recommend facet joint injections. They administer the injections directly into the inflamed soft tissues of your facet joints to promote healing and numb pain.

To build up strength and mobility, they may also recommend physical therapy. Low-impact exercises, such as walking and swimming, can strengthen your back muscles to help support your facet joints. 

If you have acute or chronic back pain, and suspect you may have degenerated facet joints, call us at 833-774-6327 to make an appointment at any of our locations. You can also book an appointment online.