Facet joint arthropathy/ neck pain


Facet joint arthropathy/ neck pain

Facet joint arthropathy, also known as cervical facet syndrome or cervical facet osteoarthritis, refers to wear and tear of the facet joints of the cervical spine (neck). These joints, located at the back (back) of the vertebrae, play a crucial role in supporting the spine, limiting excessive movement, and facilitating smooth movement of the neck. When these joints degenerate due to various factors, it can lead to pain, stiffness, and limited neck mobility.

What are the causes ?

Several factors can contribute to the development of facet joint arthropathy of the neck:

Cervical Spine is made of?

The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae (C1-C7), each connected by facet joints at the back. These joints have a cartilaginous lining that provides smooth sliding surfaces and synovial fluid for lubrication. Additionally, ligaments and muscles surround the facet joints, providing stability and supporting movement. Facet joint arthropathy disrupts the normal structure and function of these joints. This may involve: 

What are the Causes & Risk Factor?

Several factors can contribute to the development of facet joint arthropathy of the neck: 

  1. Age: As we age, the cartilage in the facet joints naturally thins and weakens, making them more susceptible to wear and tear. 
  2. Repetitive stress: Activities that involve repeated flexion, extension, or twisting of the neck can place excessive pressure on the facet joints, accelerating their degeneration. This can be seen in people whose jobs require prolonged periods of sustained neck postures, such as staring at a computer screen. 
  3. Previous injuries: Whiplash, neck sprains, or fractures can damage the facet joints and surrounding structures, increasing the risk of developing arthropathy in the future. 
  4. Obesity: Excess weight puts additional pressure on the spine, including the facet joints, thus contributing to their wear and tear. 
  5. Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to developing osteoarthritis, including facet joint arthropathy. 
  6. Underlying Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, can also contribute to facet joint degeneration. 

Predisposing factors for facet joint arthropathy of the neck

Although anyone can develop cervical facet arthropathy, certain factors can increase the risk: 

  1. Occupations Requiring Uncomfortable and Prolonged Neck Postures: People whose jobs involve sitting for long periods of time with poor posture, such as office workers or truck drivers, are at higher risk. 
  2. Athletes playing certain sports: Athletes playing sports that involve frequent movement or impact to the neck, such as football, hockey, or wrestling, may be more susceptible. 
  3. Weak Core Muscles: Weak core muscles can contribute to poor posture and place additional pressure on the cervical spine, including the facet joints. 


For facet arthropathy, the diagnosis involves assessing the patient’s medical history, conducting a physical examination, and considering imaging tests (such as X-rays) to evaluate the condition of the facet joints in the spine. The hallmark symptom is neck or back pain, which can worsen with certain movements.

Treatment for facet joint arthropathy in the neck typically involves a conservative approach to manage pain and improve function. This might include: 

  1. Rest: Avoiding activities that exacerbate pain and allowing time for healing. 
  2. Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain and discomfort. In some cases, stronger pain medication might be prescribed by a healthcare professional. 
  3. Physical therapy: Physical therapy plays a crucial role in managing facet joint arthropathy. A physical therapist can develop a customized exercise program. This program will focus on improving flexibility, strengthening the neck and core muscles, and enhancing posture to support the spine and reduce stress on the facet joints. 
  4. Manual therapy techniques: Techniques like massage therapy and joint mobilization can help improve joint mobility, reduce stiffness, and alleviate muscle tension. 
  5. Posture correction: This might involve using ergonomic workstations, practicing good posture while sitting or standing, and avoiding prolonged positions that strain the neck. 
  6. Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity (excluding activities that exacerbate pain), and managing stress can all contribute to overall well-being and potentially reduce pain associated with facet joint arthropathy. 

In some cases, if conservative approaches fail to provide adequate pain relief, minimally invasive procedures might be considered: 

  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA): This procedure uses radiofrequency waves to heat and create lesions in the nerves supplying the facet joint, aiming to disrupt pain signals. 
  • Facet joint injections with denervating agents: Injections with agents like phenol or alcohol can target specific nerves supplying the facet joint, aiming to interrupt pain signals for a longer duration compared to steroid injections. 

Facet joint replacement surgery is typically a last resort for individuals with severe and persistent pain who have exhausted all other conservative and minimally invasive options. This surgery involves replacing the damaged facet joint with an artificial implant. 

Recovery Time for Facet Joint Arthropathy in the Neck

The recovery time for facet joint arthropathy varies depending on the severity of the condition, treatment approach, and individual factors like adherence to treatment and overall health.

Typically, improvement with conservative measures like physical therapy and lifestyle modifications might be seen within weeks or months.

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