Getting an accurate diagnosis for facet syndrome requires an individual to go to a major medical center with an experienced team of spine specialists. A skilled team is necessary for proper diagnosis and treatment since facet syndrome pain can mimic other conditions, such as sciatica from a herniated disc, arthritis in the hip, and other trauma that causes lower back pain.
A diagnosis of what is leading to the stiffness, weakness, pain, or other symptoms starts with a doctor getting a complete medical history, including finding out about any injuries a person may have had, along with asking for details about the site(s) and severity of the pain and the duration and onset of the symptoms, as well as how it impacts sleeping, walking, and/or sitting. During the exam, a doctor may ask an individual to move into positions that cause discomfort and to point to where the pain is felt. The doctor will likely feel for tenderness over the spine. Basic neurological tests are often performed to locate any weakness in the muscles.
Further tests may be completed to search for medical issues that cause similar symptoms and to confirm the diagnosis of facet syndrome.
One diagnostic test that may also treat the symptoms of facet syndrome is an injection into the facet joint (described below).
Tests that are offered at Och Spine at NewYork-Presbyterian at the Weill Cornell Medicine Center for Comprehensive Spine Care include:
Treatment for the symptoms of facet syndrome should be conservative at first before surgery is considered. Facet syndrome pain may get better on its own with time, self-care, and home remedies such as:
Medical Therapy: In cases where there is structural damage to the spine, the following medical therapies can help:
Discomfort from facet syndrome responds well to the conservative therapies mentioned. It is important to realize that an individual with facet syndrome needs to avoid activities that cause pain. This may be a challenge for athletes who are anxious to return to their sport, but it is important to let inflammation in the joint subside. Similarly, even if an individual is feeling better, a prescribed course of anti-inflammatory medications should be completed.
Also, a doctor or physical therapist may prescribe regular stretching and strengthening exercises that need to be followed for months or become part of a lifelong habit. These exercises, along with cardiovascular activities, may reduce stress, lower inflammation, and improve overall health.
In some cases, surgery may be required to relieve the pain of facet syndrome.
Reviewed by: Galal Elsayed, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: September 2023