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Mysterious Back Pain: What Are Facet Joint Injuries?

Graphic illustrating the facet joints

Updated October 4, 2022

Facet joints help bind the spinal column together. Damage to these tiny joints along the spinal column can cause intense, lingering neck and back pain.

Because they are so small, facet joints are difficult to spot on a scan — many times, a sufferer’s pain is ignored. This can leave some injured victims, especially those who are younger, feeling like “it’s all in their head” even though the pain is very real.

Getting the correct diagnosis, therefore, is vital to quickly treat and alleviate facet joint pain. And if the facet joint injuries were caused by a car accident or other serious event, it may be possible to claim compensation for any necessary medical treatment.

Facet Joint Anatomy

The spine is made up of many vertebral segments. Each bone segment is comprised of a large disc and two facet joints protruding out to either side. This creates a tripod effect as each vertebra is stacked on top of one another. Discs cushion the main segment while facet joints connect the exterior segments. This allows the spine to stretch and bend.

How Facet Joints Can Be Damaged

Also known as facet joint syndrome or facet arthropathy, the cartilage protecting the joint breaks down and becomes inflamed. Pain signals triggered by nearby nerve endings can cause significant back and neck discomfort.

A facet joint injury may be caused by:

  • Bending backward
  • Twisting or jerking sideways
  • Repetitive movements
  • Car accident
  • Sports injury
  • Falling
  • Heavy lifting
  • Cartilage degeneration

Facet Joint Injury Symptoms

An injury to a facet joint can place uneven pressure along the spine. This accelerates the wear and tear of the joint, causing the smooth, flexible cartilage caps to become rough and irritated.

Symptoms of a facet injury or degeneration include:

  • Chronic or reoccurring pain
  • Muscle stiffness and spasms
  • A dull ache in the low back and buttocks, or shoulders and back of the head
  • Arm or leg pain
  • Headaches
  • Ringing in ears
  • Pain in the bottom, hips, groin, or thighs
  • Discomfort leaning backward

Facet injury symptoms depend on where the damage occurred.

Cervical facet joint pain is typically felt in the region at the base of the head, neck, upper back, shoulders, and mid-back. Lumbar facet syndrome is also quite common since the lower back often bears the brunt of motion and weight of the upper body.

A doctor who specializes in diagnosing spinal conditions, such as a physiatrist, should examine someone who may be suffering from facet joint pain. Facet injury symptoms can mimic disc herniation injuries, so a careful examination is required. The treating physician will likely order an X-ray, CT, MRI, or bone scan to help diagnose the problem.

Treating Facet Joint Injuries

Spinal facet joint injuries cannot be reversed, but there are a number of ways to mitigate pain. Exercise, lifestyle changes, proper posture, weight loss, physical therapy, medication, and careful management of your back pain can increase your quality of life. If conservative treatments fail to alleviate or control pain, a doctor may recommend injections, ablations, or surgery.

Steroid Joint Injection

This is a minimally invasive procedure where corticosteroids and numbing agents are injected into the painful joint. Steroids reduce swelling and inflammation around the nerves. Pain relief will last days, months, or years. Physical therapy and lifestyle changes afterward can improve the condition as well. Should the pain return, the facet joint injection procedure can be repeated.

Nerve Radiofrequency Ablation

Ablation may be the next step if pain reoccurs frequently after a steroid joint injection. An ablation procedure burns the tiny nerves around the facet’s joint capsule. A nerve block test is used to determine which nerves need to be treated. An anesthetic is also injected to help block the pain. A successful procedure will likely result in providing lasting pain relief.

Facet Joint Surgery

Surgery may be recommended if all other treatment options fail to provide adequate pain relief. Spinal fusion surgery is used when there is nerve root compression from enlarged facet joints, degenerative disc disease, or spinal instability. Fusing the injured portion of a spinal vertebra keeps the damaged facet joints from moving and causing pain.

Compensation for Facet Joint Injuries

If your facet joints were damaged due to a motor vehicle accident, a work incident, or someone else’s negligence, you may be able to file a personal injury claim against the person or company responsible. Filing a claim for personal injury means all necessary medical treatment for your facet joint pain is covered by the defendant’s insurance.

Medical treatment for facet joint injuries and pain can take months or years. Patients must undergo steroid injections and ablations. Physical rehabilitation, time off from work, and an altered lifestyle may be needed to recover fully.

All of these treatment costs, lost wages, and other damages from the accident should not be the responsibility of the victim.

However, the insurance companies will try to do everything in their power to get out of paying these bills if they can. To ensure fair and just compensation for your facet joint injury treatment, consult an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Getting Legal Help for Facet Joint Injuries

Facet joint injuries are a type of injury that rarely heal once the part becomes damaged, leaving the victim with chronic or recurring pain. Whether your injury was caused by being rear-ended or lifting a heavy object the wrong way while on the job, you deserve to have your medical treatment covered by the insurance company.

Your pain is real. Gary Martin Hays & Associates help victims suffering because of an auto accident or work injury find the right doctor for them and get them back on their feet.

Talk to our Atlanta personal injury attorneys today for a free evaluation of your case. We take spinal pain, back pain, and other injuries caused by others’ negligence and auto accidents seriously.

(770) 934-8000

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Further Reading

Diagnosing and Treating Shoulder Injuries

What to Do About Neck Pain After a Wreck

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