What's a Facet Joint and Could It Be Causing Your Chronic Neck Pain?

By The Spine Center

More than 20 percent of U.S. adults (about 50 million people) suffer from chronic pain. Neck pain, in particular, is one of the most common types of chronic pain. Neck pain arises for many reasons, from osteoarthritis to repetitive use injuries to automobile accidents. 

One common cause of neck pain is facet joint disorder, a term that describes any injury or dysfunction to a facet joint. Learn what a facet joint is and how it might be the culprit behind your neck pain before seeking relief from The Spine Center at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge.

What is a facet joint? 

Your spine has 26 vertebrae: four coccygeal, five sacral (fused into one bone, the sacrum), five lumbar (lower back), 12 thoracic (mid-back), and seven cervical (upper back and neck). 

Your facet joints are the connections between the bones of your spine, serving as passageways for nerves to extend from your spinal cord to your extremities and as cushioned swivels that allow you to rotate and twist your spine. 

Your facet joints are much like your knee joints, as they allow for smooth, pain-free movement where two bones meet. 

How can facet joints cause neck pain?

Much like any other joint, when a facet joint becomes inflamed or irritated, it can cause pain and tenderness. A facet joint can become injured due to cartilage degeneration, excessive pressure, repetitive use, long periods of inactivity and poor posture, sports injuries, and spine diseases or disorders.

You may hear doctors refer to facet joint pain as facet joint disorder, facet joint disease, or a facet joint sprain, but in the end, facet joint pain comes from injury to the facet joint. If the injured joint happens to be in one of your cervical vertebrae, it could cause severe — even debilitating — neck pain. 

Much of the time, injured facet joints in the neck cause a dull, irritating sort of pain. It may radiate up and down your spine or stay localized. 

Treatments for neck pain

Treatment for neck pain caused by a facet joint depends mostly on the type of injury to the problem joint. If you have osteoarthritis, for example, treatment could include nutritional supplements to help with joint integrity and prescription medication to control pain. If you suffered a sprain, however, treatment might include steroid injections and physical therapy. 

For more severe cases of facet joint pain, your doctor might recommend rhizotomy for long-lasting relief. A rhizotomy involves burning certain spinal nerve roots, so your brain does not receive pain signals. 

In worst-case scenarios, facet joint injuries and neck pain may require invasive surgery. 

If you’re struggling with neck pain, visit The Spine Center at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge for an evaluation. Call one of our convenient Baton Rouge area locations or request an appointment online.