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Facet Syndrome

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Symptoms of Facet Syndrome

Facet joint syndrome symptoms can range from a dull ache to chronic pain that makes it difficult to complete tasks of daily living. The arthritic changes in the facets can compress and aggravate the nerves that exit near them, resulting in nerve damage that leads to the following:

  • Aches
  • Burning nerve pain
  • Loss of mobility
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness
  • Pins-and-needles sensation
  • Stiffness
  • Bone spurs that may form in response to joint damage can press on nerves and trigger the radiating pain similar to that caused by a herniated disc.


The stiffness and pain felt by people who have this form of arthritis can make standing up straight or getting out of a chair difficult, in addition to any kind of twisting motion, as a decline in a person’s flexibility is quite common. An individual may have trouble walking upright and end up hunched over.

A majority of facet syndrome symptoms are felt in the lumbar region (lower back) due to its having to take on the added force of the whole upper body. People with degenerated joints in the low back may — in addition to the symptoms listed above — specifically experience facet syndrome as a dull ache in the low back directly over the spine that can radiate to the buttocks and back of thighs.

In addition, if the neck area, or cervical spine, has the degenerative changes associated with facet syndrome, specific symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty moving the head (needing to turn the whole body to look to the left or right)
  • Headaches
  • Radiating pain throughout upper neck, shoulders, and upper or middle back, as well as back of the head
  • Because the thoracic spine, or rib area, between the cervical and lumbar spine, is more rigid and not called on for as much movement as the neck and low back, its facet joints are not prone to as much damage as the others’, although some individuals may experience:
    Morning stiffness
  • Middle back pain
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Tightness through thoracic spine (rib area)
  • Pain when reaching above head or leaning backwards


Positions that take the weight off the damaged facet joint, such as sitting or leaning forward, may ease pain.

Reviewed by: Kai-Ming Fu, MD, PhD

Last reviewed/last updated: March 2018