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Cervical Facet Syndrome

Introduction

The cervical spine is a very delicate part of the body however it carries plenty of loads. As a result, there are many issues that can come with it. The cervical spine is what we call an open chain. At the end of this chain, the skull which is the weight of a bowling ball sits right on top of it. Due to the extra weight and the open chain cervical and neck injuries can become very common. Some less serious issues include sprains and strain while some very serious injuries can cause paralysis. Today, we’ll discuss a common issue, cervical facet syndrome.

Anatomy of the cervical spine

To understand cervical facet syndrome, it is important for us to know some basic anatomy so it all makes sense. The cervical spine consists of 7 segments. Each segment makes contact with the one above and below it through the facet joint located at the posterior aspect vertebra. These joints are responsible for the function and limitation of the movement between each vertebra. The facet joints are angled differently depending on the part of the spine. In the cervical spine, the joints are at a 45-degree angle on the frontal plane. Due to this arrangement, it allows more flexibility in the range of motion; flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. This means that the cervical spine is also more susceptible to injury.

Causes of cervical facet syndrome

Cervical facet syndrome is when the facet joints in the cervical spine pushing up against each other for a long period of time or any sudden movement increasing the pressure in the joint. This pressure causes irritation in the joint leading to inflammation and other issues. This is often caused by prolonged extension of the cervical spine. This motion is often seen in professionals who constantly lookup such as ceiling painters.  Another reason that can cause this syndrome is any whiplash injuries. The sudden impact of whiplash injuries can cause enough pressure against the facet joints against each other resulting in damage in the joint. Finally, any degenerative changes can also lead to cervical facet syndrome. This is because as there is more degeneration, there is less support for the vertebrae. This puts more pressure on the facets to hold everything together. This again leads to heavier pressure on the facet joint thus causing irritation and inflammation.

Symptoms of cervical facet syndrome

There are many symptoms displayed in cervical facet syndrome. Localized pain, muscle spasm, decrease in range of motion (especially extension) and difficulty performing overhead activities are some of the many symptoms. But there is one symptom that really makes it unique. Cervical facet syndrome causes referral pain and not radiating pain. Referral pain is when there is a pain in the neck and pain somewhere else. This pain does not link or run through one area. For example, pain in the neck and pain in the middle of the shoulder blades. Whereas radiating pain is a continuous form of pain. An example would be continuous pain that runs from the cervical spine through the arm and into the fingers. Depending on the level of the cervical facet syndromes, the areas of the referral will be different.

Conclusion and recommendation

In the case, if you do have cervical facet syndrome here is something that you could do to help you with symptom management. Applying ice indirectly would help alleviate inflammation, using a neck brace for support would take off the pressure on the joints and some exercises designed for cervical facet syndrome is good. The best thing to do is to get it checked by a professional whether it’s a chiropractor or a physical therapist. Cervical facet syndrome can be really painful and recovery time is dependent on the severity.

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