Cervical Facet Joint Injuries

Cervical facet joint injury is one of a number of neck injuries that can occur in the common population and among athletes. The rate of neck injuries over a lifetime is considered to be 34 percent. Chronic neck pain sufferers number about 14 percent, especially if the pain lasts longer than 6 months.

The facet joints are located on the sides of the vertebral body, where they connect to the facet joint beneath it. One or both facet joints can be affected at a particular level, along with the transverse joint, which is minimal in the cervical spine. Damage to the cervical spine can occur during a motor vehicle accident, during a sporting accident, during a diving accident or from degenerative changes to the cervical spine.

One Study
In a single study of 318 patients, about 26 percent had pain in at least one facet joint. Only about 126 patients were studied in detail as to what was going wrong and, of these, 65 percent had full on facet joint syndrome. About 62 percent of these had discography and nerve block. It was found to be low as 26 percent or as high as 65 percent, depending on the tests used to identify the cervical facet joint disease.

In another study of 500 patients with nonspecific spinal pain, the degree of spinous process injury diagnosed by using nerve block with anesthetic was 55 percent. What this means is that a fair amount of general spinal pain is in fact a case of cervical facet injury. When an effective block is made at the level of the injury, it is a positive diagnostic result. A total of 41 percent of the patients with cervical spinal injury had both a cervical disc injury and a facet joint injury at the same segment. About 23 percent of the patients had a facet joint injury alone without a disc injury.

Patients with cervical joint pain commonly get it as a result of a whiplash injury. Of 38 people who underwent a trial, about 27 had complete relief with a long acting anesthetic and from longer acting agents. The prevalence of facet joint syndrome was about 54 percent. The prevalence of pain from the cervical facet joints in whiplash injury was about 60 percent, according to one study. The commonest levels were C2-C3 and C5-C6. The orientation of the facet joint played a role in who got a facet joint injury from whiplash and who didn’t.