Lumbar Facet Joint Pain

Lumbar Facet Joint Pain

John Miller Physiotherapist

Article by John Miller


Lumbar Facet Joint Pain

What is Lumbar Facet Joint Pain?

Lumbar facet joint pain occurs when an injury affects the facet joints. The facet joints between the vertebrae of the spine are found in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions of the spine, guiding and limiting the spine’s movement. Lumbar facet joint pain is a common cause of back pain.

What Causes Lumbar Facet Joint Pain?

Factors such as joint degeneration, injury, inflammation, and arthritis cause lumbar facet joint pain. Poor posture, stress, overuse injuries, aging, obesity, and genetics can also increase the risk. Locked joints, arthritis, osteophytes, joint capsule issues, muscle spasms, and degeneration can lead to facet joint hypomobility. Trauma, such as fractures, dislocations, overstretched ligaments, or diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, can cause facet joint hypermobility.

Locking a facet joint can occur from simple movements like a mild twist, awkward movement, or unexpected actions that the body is unprepared for, such as tripping. In most cases, this happens because the motion of the facet joint exceeds muscle control. Suppose there has been a previous injury or local muscle weakness supporting the facet joints. In that case, the locking of a facet joint can occur easier and repeatedly.

What are the Symptoms of a Locked Lumbar Facet Joint?

The symptoms of a locked lumbar facet joint can include pain, stiffness, and tenderness in the affected area. These symptoms may worsen with movement or specific activities. In addition to the lumbar region, individuals with lumbar facet joint pain may also experience referred pain in other body areas, including the buttocks, hips, or thighs.

When a facet joint locks, it restricts movement from the locked position. For example, if the joint is locked in a flexed forward position, it can be challenging to arch backwards. Compensatory movements by neighbouring joints may occur, leading to pain on the opposite side of the locked facet joint. This compensation could result in other conditions like sciatica. Decreased mobility and difficulty stretching are common as well.

Facet joint syndrome refers to the recurrent locking of a facet joint. Weak stability muscles that fail to control spine movement can cause lumbar facet joint pain. Suppose you experience symptoms of a locked lumbar facet joint or facet joint syndrome. In that case, it is crucial to seek medical attention to receive proper treatment and prevent further injury.

Diagnosis of Lumbar Facet Joint Pain

A qualified healthcare professional initiates lumbar facet joint pain diagnosis through a comprehensive medical history and physical examination. Various tests and assessments are performed during this evaluation to determine the range of motion, muscle strength and identify the source of pain.

While imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans can detect arthritic changes and fractures, they are insufficient to confirm the diagnosis of a locked facet joint. The most accurate method of diagnosing a facet joint problem, whether locked, stiff, or unstable, is through a hands-on examination conducted by a qualified spinal physiotherapist.

It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to receive an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan for lumbar facet joint pain. A tailored approach that addresses the underlying cause of the pain can effectively manage symptoms and improve the individual’s quality of life.

Lumbar Facet Joint Syndrome Treatment

To treat lumbar facet joint syndrome, a physiotherapist will perform a painless joint-releasing technique to unlock the locked facet joint. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment options can include conservative measures like physiotherapy or medications and more invasive procedures such as facet joint injections or radiofrequency ablation. Sometimes, healthcare professionals may recommend surgery as a treatment option for lumbar facet joint pain.

After unlocking the joint, the focus shifts to regaining full motion and initiating exercises to prevent future recurrences. Your physiotherapist will customise the treatment plan based on the deficits identified during the examination.

Individuals with unstable facet joints require a different approach to treatment. Muscle control and stabilisation programs are necessary to address hypermobile facet joints, as a further loosening of the joint is unlikely to be beneficial.

It is essential to consult with a physiotherapist or doctor to obtain their professional opinion on the best treatment plan for your lumbar facet joint syndrome. They will provide personalised recommendations based on your specific condition and needs.

What Results Can You Expect?

Patients experiencing lumbar facet joint pain can expect significant symptom improvements through physiotherapy. According to a 2006 study by Hu et al., most patients achieve complete relief from pain after undergoing physiotherapy.

Patients with locked facet joints typically experience immediate improvement after the joint is unlocked. However, the extent and progression of progress depend on various factors, including the duration of joint locking, the underlying cause, and the range of motion available in adjacent joints.

In cases of facet joint instability, rehabilitation tends to be a lengthier process, emphasising muscle strengthening through a dedicated exercise program. A physiotherapist will provide specific guidelines and develop a personalised treatment plan to address individual needs.

It is essential to consult with a physiotherapist for an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan. They will offer a professional opinion and provide insights into the expected results based on the chosen treatment approach.

Other Treatment Options

Other treatment options include:


Massage can effectively relieve muscle spasms, releasing facet joint spasms.

Acupuncture & Dry Needling

Localised acupuncture or dry needling techniques can help alleviate muscle spasms and relieve facet joint pain. Consult with your physiotherapist for more guidance on this option.

Facet Joint Injections

Facet joint injections can be a diagnostic tool and provide short-term relief (typically lasting a week or two). However, research suggests that exercise is more effective in achieving long-term relief than facet joint injections (Mayer et al., 2004).


In chronic cases that do not respond to physiotherapy treatment, healthcare professionals may consider radiofrequency treatment an option. Radiofrequency involves cauterising the nerve to provide pain relief for a certain period. However, one downside is that the pain often returns when the nerve regrows, typically within a few months.

It is essential to discuss these treatment options with your healthcare provider or physiotherapist to determine their suitability for your specific condition and to receive professional advice on the best course of action.


Lumbar facet joint pain can be a source of significant discomfort and limitations in daily life. However, with appropriate diagnosis and treatment, relief is achievable. Physiotherapy, including joint releasing techniques and exercise programs, is crucial in managing locked facet joints and addressing facet joint instability. Based on an individual’s needs and response to initial interventions, healthcare professionals may also consider other treatment options such as massage, acupuncture, facet joint injections, and radiofrequency.

Suppose you are experiencing lumbar facet joint pain symptoms or suspect you may have a locked facet joint. In that case, it is crucial to seek medical attention. Consult with a healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist or doctor, to receive an accurate diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan. Remember, early intervention and appropriate management can significantly improve your symptoms and quality of life. Don’t hesitate to take the first step towards addressing lumbar facet joint pain and reclaiming your comfort and mobility.

What Causes Lower Back Pain?


Lower back pain is a widespread issue in Australia, stemming from diverse conditions. As physiotherapists, we often encounter various causes of this pain. This guide aims to shed light on these causes and provide valuable insights for effective management.

Lower Back Pain Causes
What's Causing Your Lower Back Pain?

Muscle-Related Injuries

Muscle injuries are a predominant cause of lower back pain, including:

Recent research underscores the importance of regular exercise and core strengthening in preventing these injuries.

Bone-Related Injuries

Bone health is crucial in lower back pain, encompassing conditions like:

Disc-Related Injuries

Spinal discs are vital for spinal health:

Minimally invasive surgical techniques have transformed the treatment of severe disc-related injuries where physiotherapy and other non-operative options fail to improve.

Back Joint Injuries

Nerve-Related Injuries

Nerve issues can lead to:

Physiotherapy and newer medications have been effective in managing these conditions. Some will require injection therapies or surgery.

Pelvis-Related Injuries

Pelvic issues also contribute to lower back pain:

Pregnancy-Related Pain

  • Pregnancy Back Pain: Often due to increased back strain during pregnancy. Prenatal physiotherapy programs are beneficial.

Systemic Diseases

Systemic diseases like Ankylosing Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause back pain.

Recent Research and Advancements

Current research emphasises a holistic approach to treating lower back pain. Techniques like yoga and Pilates, alongside traditional physiotherapy, and conservatively progressed gym programs show significant relief. The role of diet in managing weight and inflammation is increasingly recognised.

Best Treatments for Lower Back Pain

Treatment varies but often includes:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Pain management
  • Strength and flexibility exercise programs
  • Ergonomic adjustments
  • Surgical interventions for severe cases


Lower back pain is a significant health concern in Australia. Understanding its causes and seeking professional physiotherapy advice can greatly improve life quality. Remember, early intervention is key for an effective recovery.

What to Do?

If you're experiencing lower back pain, it's vital to consult a physiotherapist or doctor. They can provide an assessment and customised treatment plan based on your specific condition.

Back Pain FAQs & Products

Your Comprehensive Guide to FAQs, Causes, and Relief

Experiencing back pain and looking for answers? Our comprehensive FAQ section covers everything you need to know about back pain - from common causes and symptoms to effective treatments.

Click the links to our detailed articles to understand better and manage your back pain. Explore links to related topics like 'Severe Back Pain Management', 'Posture Improvement Techniques', and 'Physiotherapy for Chronic Back Issues' for a holistic approach to your spinal health."

back pain faqs
Back Pain Faqs

What Causes Back Pain?

Discover the various factors behind back pain, including muscle strains, herniated discs, and more.

How Can I Relieve Back Pain?

Explore treatments ranging from physiotherapy to exercises, tailored to alleviate back pain.

Can Back Pain Be Prevented?

Learn how to prevent back pain through healthy habits and proper body mechanics.

When Should You See a Physio or Doctor for Back Pain?

Understand when it's crucial to seek professional medical advice for back pain.

Repeated Bouts & Incidental Back Pain FAQs

Addressing frequently occurring and sudden back pain incidents.

Youth Back Pain FAQs

Focusing on the prevention and management of back pain in teenagers.

Back Pain Exercises FAQs

Discover effective exercises and tools for back pain relief.

Back Pain Prevention FAQs

Key insights into everyday activities and their impact on back health.

Posture FAQs

Learn about the importance of good posture and techniques to improve it.

Other Treatments For Back Pain?

Investigate a variety of treatments, from nerve blocks to spinal cord stimulation.


Empowering you with knowledge to understand, address, and prevent back pain effectively.

What to Do Next

Now that you've gained insight into the causes and remedies of back pain, it's time to take the next steps. Start by applying the prevention techniques and exercises detailed in this guide to your daily routine. If you're currently experiencing back pain, consider the treatment options discussed and consult a healthcare professional for personalised advice. Remember, every journey to back health is unique.

Stay informed, be proactive in your self-care, and don't hesitate to seek professional help when needed. For further reading, explore the hyperlinked articles to deepen your understanding and support your path to a pain-free life. Here’s to taking control of your back health and embracing a more comfortable, active lifestyle.

You've just added this product to the cart: