Facet Joint Inflammation

Facet joint inflammation is inflammation of the facet joint, which links each vertebra to the one above and below it to allow for movement of the spine and protection against excessive rotation and movement.

The facet joints, also known as the zygapophysial joints, are the joints at the back of the spine that link the vertebrae together. The facet joints holds the spine together at the location where the facets connect to one another, and they also contain smooth tissue between the facets, which protect the bones from rubbing together. Due to injury, inflammatory disease, osteoarthritis, the facets may become injured or degenerated, which may cause facet joint inflammation. The aging process of the facets may also accelerate when other structures of the spine become degenerated, cause added pressures to the facet joints.

Mechanics and pathology. Behind the body of the vertebra, there is a the lamina and pedicles together form a ring of bone, through which the spinal canal passes through, Just behind the vertebral body, there are two superior articular processes that project upwards, and two inferior articular processes that project downwards. The superior processes link up with the inferior processes of the vertebral bone above it. the two inferior articular processes link up with the superior articular processes of the vertebral bone below it. To hold these structures together and prevent the friction between the facets, a layer of smooth tissue is found between the facets and a capsule of connective tissue surrounds the structure to provide nutrition to the structures and prevent the structure from coming apart. A spinal motion segment consists of two facet joints, which unite and support two superior and two inferior articular processes, at each level of the spine. Other structures associated with the spinal motion segment include the ligaments and muscles that connect to the facet joint. These facet joints provide for stability of the spine and holding it together, while allowing for some movement.

Inflammation or instability may occur in the facet joints when the smooth tissue protecting the faces of the facets wears out, or when there is degeneration to other structures associated with the facet joints, such as the ligaments and the fibrous capsule. If degenerative changes to the facet joint do occur, we may experience pain from facet joint inflammation. Pathology to the facet joint, and the resulting instability at that level of the spine, may cause excessive rotation and flexion of the spine, possibly causing a variety of associated back problems.

Facet joint inflammation and facet joint arthritis may occur as a result the normal aging process, which may affect all joints. The facet joints and intervertebral discs are particularly vulnerable to age related changes. The first symptoms experienced as a result of facet joint arthritis are dull aches at the level of the spine of the affected facet joints. Like degenerative disc disease, facet joint arthritis may also involve referred pain patterns. Referred pain patterns are symptoms of pain that occur in locations distant to the actual source of the pain.

Diagnosis: X-Rays may provide some information about the health states of the facet joints being examined, though CT Scans (Computed Tomography) will provide much more useful diagnostic information. MRIs are also very good at ruling out other causes of back pain and associated referred pain, such as discitis infection, disc herniations, and cervical myelopathy.