The facet joints of the neck are the small joints on either side of the vertebrae. In different areas of the spine, the joints are shaped differently to control certain movements of one bone on another. These are not weight bearing joints, as these joints are not designed to take much load, a sudden uncontrolled force or excessive compression of the joints can lead to inflammation of the joint surface.
What is it
When this happens, the muscles of the neck and shoulder tend to go into spasm, painfully restricting movement of the neck. This can be related to poor posture, poor core muscle control, trauma or even sleeping with the neck in an awkward position.
Initial management includes avoidance of aggravating activities, which are usually looking up and turning to the painful side. Heat to relax muscle spasm and anti-inflamatory medication to calm the joint surface are generally quite helpful at decreasing pain and improving movement.
Physiotherapy has been shown to be very effective in treating facet joint injuries through a number of hands on techniques to get the painful joint moving as well as heat massage and acupuncture to decrease muscle spasm. Once this has been achieved your physiotherapist can provide you with a range of home stretches and exercises to keep the neck moving.
In the presence of postural or core strength issues, the final phase of management is setting you up with a program of corrective exercises to tackle these issues and prevent the injury from re-occurance.