Facet joints are located between each vertebrae in your spine. They function to connect the vertebrae, as well as allow you to bend and twist your spine. Sometimes, the joint can become irritated, inflamed and painful. Pain that originates in your facet joint is known as facet joint syndrome. Although facet joint syndrome can affect any part of the spine, the neck and lower back are most commonly affected. Exercise is usually a part of the treatment plan for facet joint syndrome. Often, exercise is able to alleviate pain in many patients without the need for more aggressive treatment, including surgery.
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Facet joint syndrome can be caused by several factors including injury, arthritis, inflammation, poor posture, disc degeneration or infection.
Exercises are typically prescribed, along with other conservative measures, as a first-line treatment for facet joint syndrome. This may include aerobics, stretching and strengthening exercises. Postural exercises may also be instituted to align the spine and decrease the amount of pressure exerted on the spine.
Exercise holds many benefits for those suffering from facet joint syndrome including a reduction in inflammation, alleviation of pain and an increase in range of motion. Exercise also increases blood flow to the joint, which actually promotes healing. Strength training, in particular, builds the muscles surrounding your spine and stabilizes the spinal column. Stretching improves flexibility and decreases stiffness, a problem experienced by many with facet joint syndrome caused by arthritis. Aerobic exercises are commonly a part of many treatment plans, with a goal to reduce weight, improve cardiovascular health as well as improve endurance. This can be especially beneficial for overweight individuals because excess weight can put extra pressure on the spine and cause wearing away of the cartilage inside the facet joint.
Aerobic exercise such as walking or biking should be done for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Many people with facet joint syndrome find a stationary bike to be more comfortable, due to the slightly flexed stance of the spine. Remember to keep your back straight while you do these exercises to reduce the pressure on your lower spine. Stretch after you have warmed up properly. Some stretches for the lower back include the hamstring, knee to chest, hip flexor and piriformis stretch. Hold these stretches for 20 seconds and do five repetitions. You may move on to strengthening exercises after completing your stretches. Strengthening exercises should be focused on the area of concern. Exercises such as straight leg raises, bridges and wall squats are beneficial for the lower back. Abdominal contractions and crunches are useful for strengthening the abdomen. Once you have mastered basic strengthening exercises, an exercise ball may be introduced into your routine for a more advanced core workout.
Do not perform exercises unless directed by your doctor or physical therapist. Doing so may worsen your condition. A physical therapist will be able to design a specific exercise plan and ensure that you perform the exercises properly. He may also perform other modalities such as massage, traction, electrical stimulation, heat and ice. If you do not achieve adequate pain relief from conservative therapy, you may require a facet joint injection. The results of facet joint blocks are typically favorable, with about 80 percent of patients achieving significant pain relief for several months, reports the Cleveland Clinic.
Call your doctor immediately if you experience severe pain, numbness or tingling between the legs or inner thighs, bowel or bladder dysfunction, weakness of the legs or difficulty walking. These are signs of a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome that requires immediate medical attention. Pain from facet joint syndrome can be distinguished from this condition in that it typically does not extend below the knees or cause numbness or tingling.