Neck (Cervical) pain is a common condition that often becomes chronic in nature, with prevalence ranging from 30% to 50% over the course of 12 months.
Problems with the Cervical facet joints are one of the most common sources of neck pain – a 2004 study found that prevalence of facet joint pain in patients with chronic cervical spine pain is approximately 55%. The good news is that conservative care, including stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as postural correction, can often help to minimize the symptoms of cervical facet joint syndrome.
Symptoms of Cervical Facet Joint Syndrome
Cervical facet joint syndrome can cause numerous symptoms, including:
• Achy, widespread (Diffuse) pain felt in the shoulders, neck and back of the skull, and/or upper and mid back. Can occur on one side, or on both sides of the body.
• Pain in between the shoulder blades.
• Radiating pain into the arms.
• Pain may be constant or come and go.
• Decreased range of motion in the neck and upper back.
• Swelling and tenderness to palpation around the affected facet joint.
• Recurrent headaches, typically located in the back of the head.
• Ringing in the ears.
Causes of Facet Joint Pain
Facet joint syndrome is the result of degenerative changes to the joints that are located between the bones of in the back of the spine, known as the facet joints.
The cartilage inside the facet joints can break down and become inflamed, which is often referred to as: Facet joint degenerative osteoarthritis. This can trigger pain around the spine and the surrounding nerve endings; the muscles in the area then stiffen and spasm, leading to typical symptoms of cervical facet joint syndrome.
Facet joint degenerative osteoarthritis is the most frequent form of facet joint pain.
Risk factors for Cervical Facet Joint Pain
Conditions that change the alignment and movement of the facet joints in the neck increase the risk of cervical facet syndrome, and include:
• Injury (i.e. whiplash, repetitive strain injuries).
• Poor posture (i.e forward head posture, rounded shoulders).
• Spinal conditions (i.e. scoliosis, kyphosis).
Treatment for Cervical Facet Joint Pain
The approach to treatment of cervical facet joint syndrome is typically conservative, and includes:
• Resting to allow the facet joints to relax and reduce inflammation.
• Applying ice to the affected area in 10 to 15 minute intervals to help reduce inflammation.
• Applying ice to the affected area in 15 to 20 minute intervals to help soothe stiff muscles.
• Stretching and strengthening exercises to help strengthen the muscles in the affected area and encourage proper body mechanics during movement.
• Maintaining proper posture to keep the facet joints in alignment and reduce unnecessary pressure on the affected facet joints.
• Medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or muscle relaxants, to ease muscle spasm in the muscles surrounding the affected facet joints.
Cervical Facet Joint Exercises For Pain Relief:
Exercise #1: Neck Rotations
This will add some range of motion to the neck.
How to do it:
– Draw your navel in and stretch your spine
– Slowly rotate your neck to the right
– Then rotate your neck to the left
– Repeat 10-15 times
* Only rotate to a pain-free range. Don’t push through any pain.
Exercise #2: Levator Scapulae Stretch
This will release the neck muscles, as well as open up the facet joints in the back – providing some relief.
How to do it:
– Begin in a seated position and grasp the bottom of your chair with your right hand.
– Bring your chin in towards your chest and rotate your head towards the left shoulder.
– Then using your left arm gently push your head down looking towards your left armpit until you feel a slight stretch along with right side of your neck.
– Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds.
– Repeat on the opposite side
– Aim for 3 repetitions of this stretch on each side.
Exercise #3: Chin Tucks
This will help strengthen the weak neck muscles and help you get into a better posture.
How to do it:
– Begin sitting in an upright position, shoulders slightly back, head looking straight ahead. It might be easiest to begin doing this in front of a mirror.
– While keeping your face and mouth relaxed, slowly glide your head straight back, as if you are trying to make a “double chin”.
– Make sure not to open your mouth with this movement.
– While holding this position, slowly look down towards your chest with your entire head.
– Hold this position for 10 seconds, then repeat it 10 times.
– Remember to keep the “tucked” position the entire time.
Licensed chiropractor, DC (Owner of Forme Clinic, Stoney Creek, ON, L8G 1B9)
Dr. Shaina McQuilkie graduated from Brock University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Kinesiology (Honours). She then attended D’Youville College, in Buffalo, New York and obtained her Doctorate of Chiropractic Degree in 2008. After graduating, Dr. McQuilkie practiced in a multi-disciplinary healthcare facility based in Hamilton, Ontario gaining experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal injuries.