If you've ever had that one-sided sharp, catching pain in your neck or back that stops you moving even slightly towards that painful side, you've likely experienced a sprained facet joint.
Facet joint sprains can be a source of intense back or neck pain, limiting our mobility and overall quality of life. This kind of injury is usually fairly short lived, but the first few days when its at its worst can be very highly sensitive and irritable. The acute phase usually doesn't last more than a week, and the pain usually subsides entirely within 2-3 weeks.
These injuries can result from trauma (like a car accident), repetitive motions or rapid combination movements (like bending/twisting/lifting too quickly), or can be predisposed in degenerative conditions where the joint has been previously injured or where the joint isn't as healthy as it could be. Even though this condition is normally short-lived, it can be challenging to manage and exceptionally painful.
Facet joints are small joints located at the back of the spine, connecting the vertebrae. When they are happy they provide stability and allow for easy non-painful movement in the spine. When these joints become injured or strained, it can be a very painful experience. Turning your head to the impacted side is usually very restricted by a sharp, bony pain. Often turning to the opposite side is much easier and without the same sting of instant pain.
Common causes include sudden trauma or whiplash type injuries, quick repetitive motions, or lifting and twisting at the same time. We'll often hear people say "I slept funny and now I can't turn my neck that way", this can be from sleeping in a weird or awkward position with the neck jammed up overnight.
Symptoms of facet joint sprains include localised pain which is usually one sided, stiffness, reduced range of motion due to intense pain, and muscle spasms. The muscles around the impacted facet joint can go into a protective spasm to prevent you from moving, but the spasm itself can be very painful and can cause referral of pain to other areas. If the sprained facet joint is in your neck, its common to get a headache referred from the surrounding muscles. If the sprained facet is in your back, the referral patterns from an upper back facet is usually to the shoulders, or from a lower back facet to your hips.
These sprains can significantly impact daily activities, especially things that need you to be able to move easily and safely, like doing headchecks in the car, getting in and out of bed, or going to the gym.
When it comes to facet joint sprains, our myotherapists offer several benefits:
Pain Relief: Myotherapists utilise a range of techniques, including deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, and joint mobilisation, to alleviate pain associated with facet joint sprains. By targeting the affected area and surrounding muscles, our myotherapists help reduce muscle tension, release endorphins, and improve blood circulation, resulting in pain relief. Techniques that can be used in acute stages include things like dry needling which can resolve muscle spasm without applying broad pressure over the area.
Muscle Relaxation and Joint Mobility: Facet joint sprains often lead to muscle spasms and restricted joint mobility. Myotherapy techniques such as gentle stretching, soft tissue mobilisation, and joint mobilisation help relax the muscles, increase flexibility, and restore normal joint motion. These interventions promote healing, reduce inflammation, and enhance overall range of motion. Gentle mobilisations encourage the correct glide of the facet joints to return, and using techniques like Muscle Energy Technique we can often reduce the protective spasm and improve the amount of movement and the irritability of the joint fairly quickly.
Muscle Imbalance: Musculoskeletal imbalances can contribute to facet joint sprains. Myotherapists assess and correct muscle imbalances through targeted exercises, ergonomic modifications, and postural retraining. By addressing these underlying issues, your myotherapist helps improve your alignment, reduce stress on the facet joints, and prevent further injury.
Strength and Stability: Myotherapy focuses not only on treating the immediate pain but also on building strength and stability to prevent future sprains, once the pain intensity allows us to do so. Myotherapists develop customised exercise programs to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine, enhancing overall spinal stability and reducing the risk of recurrent facet joint sprains. For a facet joint sprain, we usually expect this part of your treatment plan to begin about 2 weeks into your program, once the pain has settled and you have regained mobility.
Education and Self-Care: Myotherapists play an essential role in educating our patients about facet joint sprains and self-care techniques. We provide guidance on proper body mechanics, ergonomics, and exercises to maintain a healthy spine and prevent further injuries. Empowering individuals with the knowledge to take control of their own well-being is a fundamental aspect of myotherapy.
Facet joint sprains can significantly impact our daily lives, causing pain and limiting our mobility. Myotherapy offers a comprehensive approach to treating facet joint sprains by addressing pain, muscle tension, joint mobility, and underlying imbalances. Through techniques such as pain relief, muscle relaxation, joint movement correction, and strength training, myotherapy aims to provide lasting relief and prevent future sprains. If you're struggling with facet joint sprains, seeking the expertise of our qualified myotherapists can be a valuable step towards finding relief and regaining functionality.
Book online with any of our great Myos, or call us on 03 8204 0970 for more information.
By Peter Pascalis, Clinical Myotherapist
When joints become stiff and sore we can be very aware of them. Standing from a chair can make us feel like we've aged 30 years. It can feel hard to do the most basic of things, like just straightening or bending your knee or elbow. We can feel a sharp jabbing sensation somewhere in our neck, our back, or any other affected joint.
Joint dysfunction can alter muscle patterns, often creating compensations which cause further stress on neighbouring tissues, and changes to our ability to sense our body in space.
So what can we do about it?
In order for joints to move nicely on each other a certain degree of motion must be available or we end up with faulty motion and the potential for pain, inflammation, scar tissue, and overly worked soft tissue. The assessment of these joint movements requires the clinician to observe active and passive range of motion (termed as physiological and accessory motion) which are the small movements we cannot consciously control but which must exist to ensure the congruency and optimal function of joint surfaces.
A reduction in joint glide or slide can cause dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system often leading to pain and stiffness, not to mention more serious pathology like a disc herniation and chronic pain may be a result of ongoing joint issues.
In our clinical experience it is common to find these faulty joints often termed as hypomobile, meaning that they move less than other joints above or below them.
Hypomobility will increase the tension on adjacent joints making the inert tissues such as ligaments prone to stretch. This micro trauma can initiate an inflammatory response with scarring of tissue and further reduction of movement and pain. Due to the close proximity of spinal nerves, muscles and body systems can be affected often with increases in painful areas.
Mobilisations are graded in 4 stages which correspond to the amount of movement and force applied by the treating practitioner. The assessment of movement and pain precedes an informed decision to mobilise joints and this must be agreed to by the client. Grades 1 & 2 are used to reduce pain and grades 3 & 4 to increase mobility.
Is a mobilisation the same as when a Chiropractor cracks your joints?
What sets mobilisations apart from high velocity thrust manipulations (the 'cracking" of the joints) is that manipulations are produced by progressing beyond the physiological limit of a joint range whereas all 4 grades of mobilisation are within the range of the joint. This is why a pop is heard during a Chiropractic manipulation, which is the release of gases from the joint surface. Both mobilisation and manipulation have similar physiological effects on joint movement and soft tissue responses and are carried out by professionally trained clinicians.
As Myotherapists we are trained and insured to perform all 4 grades of mobilisations.
Joint mobilisation can reduce sensitivity to painful stimuli and changes to the sympathetic nervous system. For a more in depth understanding of the physiological and neurological effects of joint mobilisations please refer to the blog titled I’m In Pain: How Can Myotherapy Help?
When pain reduction and improvements of movement have been achieved another technique called Mobilisation With Movement (MWM) developed by Physiotherapist Brian Mulligan can further create pain free movement in the most restricted movement, meaning that the movement which causes restriction can be directly targeted with accessory glides whilst the patient performs the action. These are generally pain free and improvements can be seen instantaneously. The benefits of such a treatment is that patients can see and feel the immediate improvements in range and further progress can be achieved with sports taping to support the new range. Although mobilisations and mobilisations with movement are preferably performed on skin these techniques can certainly be effective for patients that prefer to be fully clothed for their treatment. The treatment belt is used for stabilisation during treatment and to mobilise the patient while movement occurs.
As mentioned earlier a thorough assessment is performed to identify the hypomobile joints however sometimes we can also find joints that are moving more than would be ideal - these are termed hypermobile joints.
Hypermobile joints have the opposite problem, they have too much freedom to move and this can cause muscular pain as your muscles work overtime to stabilise the joint. For this type of joint problem we would prescribe exercises rather than increasing mobility at an already hypermobile joint.
Mobilisations and MWM’s are a couple of wonderful treatment techniques underpinned by extensive research and clinical efficacy which are used to improve pain and function.
Book with me for a thorough assessment and treatment plan for your joint pain, whether its stiff achy hypomobile joints or sore fatigued and over worked muscles stabilising a hypermobile joint. I'm available Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and you can make an appointment with me online or phone the clinic on 03 8204 0970 to book in.
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