Healthy Blog

Facet Joint Degeneration & Physiotherapy – Reducing the Need for NSAID Medication

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Facet Joint Degeneration is a type of osteoarthritis that occurs in the spine. The facet joints are located on each side of the spinal column, between the discs and the vertebra.

The role of the facet joints is to help keep your spine stable and limit incorrect movements that cause back injury.  These joints are covered by cartilage and when the cartilage starts to break down, it causes facet joint degeneration.

Causes

Wear and tear through ageing is a major cause, along with sports and spinal injuries.  In addition, obesity, poor core stability and bad posture are now recognised as major contributing factors.

Symptoms

  • Back pain on one side of the spine made worse by side bending or bending backwards
  • Joint stiffness in the morning
  • Weakness in arms or legs
  • Nerve irritation in the spinal cord causing Sciatica pain in groin, buttocks or back of thighs
  • Restricted range of movement
  • Swelling in the affected joints

Diagnosis

A doctor or Chartered Physiotherapist can usually make a diagnosis based on a physical examination, your symptoms and your medical history.  Sometimes an X-ray is needed to confirm the diagnosis.

NSAID medication

If you experience a severe episode of facet joint pain, you may be prescribed powerful non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – NSAID’s.  However, it’s not a good idea to take NSAID’s for more than a few days owing to the effects they can have on your body and brain function.

Drug-free 

Fortunately, most people don’t need to because as the experts in musculo-skeletal conditions, physiotherapists can reduce the symptoms through joint manipulation and special stretching exercises.

Manual joint manipulation opens up the facet joint and gently breaks down the early scar tissue that’s restricting your movement.  This will immediately increase your back and joint mobility.

Relaxing

Although you may be in terrible pain when you enter the physiotherapists’ treatment room and anxious about anyone even touching your back or sore joints - don’t worry.  The physio will first give you an extremely soothing heat treatment followed by a relaxing massage. 

These will relieve your pain and muscle spasm as well as releasing any painfully trapped sciatic nerves.  Combined with posture correction treatment and rest, this is often all that’s needed to deal with a short-term facet joint problem!