Can Car Accidents Cause Facet Syndrome?

Last updated Thursday, September 28th, 2023

Could Your Facet Syndrome Be Related to Your Car Accident?

If you’ve been in a car accident, you could be suffering from facet syndrome. Facet syndrome is not easy to diagnose and must be diagnosed by a professional medical doctor. Facet joints, which are about the size of your knuckles, exist at the back of each vertebra along the spine, enabling and controlling many of the forward, backward, and twisting movements of the body. These joints are usually protected by cartilage and connective tissues.

In an auto accident, the impact can cause the spine to extend suddenly and does not always prevent the joints from becoming jammed.

What are the Symptoms of Facet Syndrome?

Facet syndrome symptoms can range from a dull ache to chronic pain, making daily living difficult. If one or more facet joints become injured resulting in nerve damage, you may experience:

  • Chronic neck or back pain
  • Possible radiating pain in the shoulders
  • Painful headaches or migraines
  • Burning nerve pain
  • Loss of mobility
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness
  • Pins-and-needles sensation
  • Stiffness
  • Bone spurs

* While the above-mentioned symptoms may point to facet syndrome, it is necessary to consult with a doctor for a proper diagnosis of your injury. Pain that seems to point to facet syndrome may, in fact, be caused by another condition. When visiting a physician for diagnosis, he or she may take x-rays or have a CT scan done to view injuries to the facet joints as well as other areas of the spine. If necessary, a facet joint injection can be performed to determine if a patient has the injury.

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Is Facet Syndrome the Same as a Herniated Disc?

No, symptoms of facet syndrome differ at least slightly from herniated disc symptoms. Pain from facet syndrome is often felt in the shoulders and does not typically move into the arm or hand.

Pain from an inflamed facet joint can radiate down into the buttocks and down the back of the upper leg but rarely appears in the front of the leg or below the knee (as in the case of a herniated disc). Sufferers of facet syndrome also complain of pain that feels like a dull ache and is worse in the morning, during times of inactivity, during stormy weather, and upon compressing the affected area (for example, bending one’s head to his or her right if the painful joint is in the right side of the neck).

What Treatments are Available for Facet Syndrome?

Though Facet Syndrome can’t be cured, medication, getting exercise, and making lifestyle changes can all help promote recovery and a better quality of life. Many patients are often encouraged to pursue less invasive techniques to relieve pain before exploring options like injections & surgery, as these procedures are higher-risk ones. The most common solutions are:

  • Pain Medications –  Medications like NSAIDs or other anti-inflammatory prescriptions are common treatment options. If your facet syndrome also causes muscle spasms, your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxer.
  • Exercise – Light exercise may be used to strengthen weak muscles, increase flexibility, and help move blood flow to the surrounding tissues. While exercise may not directly relieve pain or cure facet joint syndrome, keeping the muscles healthy may reduce additional pressure on the joints that cause pain.
  • Spine Alignment – Improving posture and making positive behavior changes may result in improved spine alignment.
  • Hot/Cold Therapy – Using hot or cold packs can help to relieve aches and pains in the muscles.
  • Chiropractic Care – Working with a professional to release muscle tension can be a successful solution.
  • Inversion Therapy– Inversion Therapy uses gravity-assisted traction to relieve the pressure of the spinal discs, in turn, relieving pain.
  • More Complex Treatment Options – More serious procedures include
    • facet rhizotomy, which destroys the nerve endings around the injured facet joints, and bone fusion surgery for those who have disc degeneration.
    • PRFN (Pulsed Radiofrequency Neurotomy), which has also been used to treat inflamed facet joints, works to prevent specific spinal nerves from transmitting signals of pain.

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