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Facet Joint Sprain: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Feeling a sharp pain in your lower back whenever you move? You could be experiencing a common injury known as a facet joint sprain.

If you didn’t know: your spine is made up of multiple segments, better known as vertebrae. Each vertebra has two sets of small facet joints on either side, connecting it to the vertebra above and below. While they may be small, these facet joints are a critical part of your spine’s structure; they allow you to twist your body and bend forwards, backwards, and sideways. Pretty essential stuff!

When you have facet joint sprain, your body’s movement can become limited, and the pain and discomfort you feel can severely affect your day-to-day activities. In this article, we will explain what can cause a facet joint sprain, what symptoms you may experience, as well as what you can do to recover from it.

What is Facet Joint Sprain?

As mentioned above, facet joints are responsible for the stability and movement of your spine. A facet joint sprain can occur when the joint is moved beyond its natural limits—this places stress on the ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues surrounding it. This resulting strain on the joint is what causes the stiffness and pain. In some cases it can also cause swelling in the lower back.

What Causes a Facet Joint Sprain?

Facet joint sprain usually arises due to a sudden overextension of the joint, which is a result of the following:

  • Sudden impact or trauma: Quick, abrupt movements that make your facet joints experience a lot of stress in a short period of time can lead to a facet joint sprain. An example of this would be whiplash from a driving accident.

  • Repetitive strain injuries: An overuse of the joints can also wear down the strength of the ligaments that connect them and result in damage to the tissue. Playing a lot of sports that involve the rotation of the back, such as golf or tennis, can be a contributing factor.

  • Poor back posture: A bad sitting or standing posture can lead to muscular imbalances, reducing your back’s strength and flexibility. This gives rise to a higher risk of injuries like facet joint sprains occurring.

Symptoms of Facet Joint Sprain

What are the Symptoms of Facet Joint Pain
What are the Symptoms of Facet Joint Pain

If you have a facet joint sprain, the symptoms you could experience will vary in intensity and location, depending on the severity of the injury. Here are some common symptoms you may be experiencing:

  • Localised Back Pain: Sharp jolts of pain are the most apparent symptom of a sprained facet joint. This pain may occur occasionally or frequently and is often felt on one side of the spine.

  • Muscle Stiffness: Because of the damage to the tissue around the affected facet joint, you may feel your muscles become stiff or tense, making some of your daily activities difficult to do.

  • Radiating Pain: Pain from a sprained facet joint can radiate to other adjacent areas of the body, such as the neck, hips, or upper limbs.

  • Muscle Spasms: The injury may also cause the muscles around the affected facet joint to contract involuntarily, leading to muscle spasms.

Treatments for Facet Joint Sprain

Treatment options for facet joint sprain aim to reduce pain, promote healing, and restore normal function to the affected area. The approach to treatment may vary depending on the severity of the sprain and individual patient factors. Here are some standard treatment options for facet joint sprain that you can try on your own:

  • Sufficient Rest: Avoid activities or movements that exacerbate the pain and reduce your daily activities to allow the injured facet joint to heal.

  • Pain Management: You can take most over-the-counter pain relievers to manage pain and reduce inflammation.

  • Ice or Heat Therapy: Apply ice packs in the initial stages (first 48 hours) to reduce inflammation and numb the area. After this initial stage, heat therapy can help to promote blood circulation and relax your muscles.

  • Facet Joint Sprain Exercises: Try specific exercises targeting the affected facet joint to improve mobility and stability, such as gentle spine stretches, pelvic tilts, and core strengthening exercises.

In more severe cases, advanced medical intervention may be required, including the following:

  • Facet Joint Injections: Some anaesthetic and anti-inflammatory medication can be applied directly into the facet joint to provide pain relief and reduce inflammation.

  • Supportive Wear: You may be prescribed a brace or lumbar support device to stabilise the affected area and support healing.

  • Surgery: An operation may be required in cases of severe ligament damage or persistent pain that does not respond to conservative treatments.

Treatments for Facet Joint Pain
Treatments for Facet Joint Pain

Facet Joint Sprain Healing Time

Facet joint sprains will usually take between one week to a month to see significant improvement and relief. With the help of regular physiotherapy sessions from a qualified healthcare professional, this healing process can be accelerated and prevent further complications from occurring.

A professional physiotherapist can help facilitate facet joint sprain recovery through the following treatment methods:

  • Manual Therapy: Hands-on techniques such as joint mobilisation, manipulations, and soft tissue massage can help improve joint mobility, reduce pain, and enhance healing by promoting proper alignment and tissue flexibility.

  • Heat Treatment: Professional heat therapy treatments can relieve pain and muscle spasms in the affected areas.

  • Therapeutic Exercises: Customised therapeutic motion exercises targeting joints can strengthen supportive muscles, increase flexibility, and improve stability.

  • Progressive Rehabilitation: As the healing progresses, your physiotherapist may adjust the treatment plan, gradually increasing the intensity and complexity of exercises to ensure a safe and effective recovery.

The earlier a facet joint sprain is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances for a successful recovery. It's crucial for you to work closely with a trusted healthcare service provider to determine the most suitable treatment plan to set your back, back on track.

How Infinite Health Can Help

Sprained facet joints can be painful and debilitating, but with proper rest, treatment, and care, most sprains will heal well over time. If you’ve been suffering from severe or persistent back pain, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional physiotherapist, which you can do by giving Infinite Health a call.

Our experienced physiotherapists will work closely and carefully with you to diagnose your condition and develop a customised treatment plan that will have you feeling back to your usual healthy self in no time!


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