Facet syndrome or commonly known as facet joint disease or spinal arthritis involves the degeneration of the cartilage located on the joins of the spine.

This condition allows the vertebrae to rub together and form bony prominences or bone spurs. The symptoms of facet syndrome are usually difficult to determine as such because they can be similar to the symptoms of other spinal conditions such as disc herniation, fracture of the spine and muscle tensions on the back. Facet syndrome usually develops on the cervical and the lumbar area because the neck and the lower back are the most flexible regions of the spine; hence, the vertebrae and cartilage are subjected to more stress and wear and tear. Symptoms usually include:

Back pain

Pain on the back is the most common symptom of facet syndrome. When the smooth cartilage is worn out, it allows the vertebrae to rub together, which leads to nerve irritation along the affected spin and subsequently leads to pain. Pain is characterized as dull, deep and intermittent. Pain commonly intensifies during movements involving the affected spine such as moving the neck or twisting.

Although it may be aggravated by movement, pain in facet syndrome is usually unpredictable and may only arise several times in a month or a year. The facet joint may also experience inflammation from the friction causing localized pain on the back. Facet syndrome rarely involves nerve entrapment so the pain usually originates from facet joint inflammation. Another characteristic of pain in facet syndrome is it is felt when leaning backwards than when leaning forward.

Radiating Pain

The pain may radiate to the buttocks and the upper leg, which may limit leg motion. The pain rarely reaches the lower leg and the front of the thighs and these characteristics differentiate facet syndrome from disc herniation wherein the latter involves pain until the lower legs and anterior portion of the thighs. The pain may also radiate until the shoulders, but rarely in the arms as this is a characteristic of pain in disc herniation.


Aside from back pain, facet syndrome may also lead to headaches especially when the cervical spine is involved. The nerve entrapment may cause radiating pain to the head especially on the nape area.

Tenderness on the affected joint

The inflammation on the facet joint can also lead to local tenderness on the area overlying the affected joint. The tenderness can also lead to loss of muscle flexibility in the spine contributing to reduced range of motion.

Reduced range of motion of the spine

Facet syndrome can also lead to limited range of motion such as difficulty twisting the neck and back and leaning backwards. This limited range if motion can be felt as stiffness in the morning accompanied by pain; thereby, intensifying the reduced motion of the spinal joints.

The symptoms of facet syndrome are commonly disabling and debilitating. Back pain that intensifies overtime or is not relieved by any measures should be referred to a health care provider to determine the presence of facet syndrome and other spinal conditions.