The facet joints are found at every level on both sides of the lumbar spine. They provide about 20 percent of the twisting stability in the low back. Each facet joint is positioned at each level of the spine to provide the needed support especially with rotation.
Facet joints also prevent each vertebra from slipping over the one below. A small capsule surrounds each facet joint providing a nourishing lubricant for the joint.
Also, each joint has a rich supply of tiny nerve fibers that provide a painful stimulus when the joint is injured or irritated. Inflamed facets can cause a powerful muscle spasm.
Facet joints are in almost constant motion with the spine and it is quite common for them to simply wear out in many patients. When facet joints become worn or torn, the cartilage may become thin or disappear. The bone in the joint underneath can produce an overgrowth of bone spurs and an enlargement of the joints. When that happens, we say the joint has arthritic changes, or osteoarthritis, which can produce considerable back pain when a person moves. This condition may also be referred to as facet joint disease, or facet joint syndrome.
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