Diagnosis of Facet Arthropathy

Learn more about how to get a diagnosis of facet arthropathy and how to get treatment near you in this comprehensive article.

Table of Contents


Facet arthropathy is a degeneration of the facet joints in the spine. Diagnosing facet arthropathy helps differentiate it from other spinal disorders with similar symptoms.

Accurate diagnosis of facet arthropathy guides the selection of appropriate treatment options.

What Do Treatment Plans Look Like After a Diagnosis of Facet Arthropathy?

Treatment plans may include conservative measures and interventional procedures. This includes:1

  • Pain medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Facet joint injections
  • Radiofrequency ablation

Knowing the precise diagnosis of facet arthropathy will help develop a treatment plan.

Diagnostic Tests Used to Identify Facet Arthropathy

Here are some diagnostic tests used for the diagnosis of facet arthropathy.

Medical History and Physical Examination

The healthcare provider will start by taking a detailed medical history. They will ask about the nature and location of your pain. This includes accompanying symptoms and factors that worsen or reduce it.


This examination may involve assessing your range of motion and palpating the spine.

Why Are These Tests Important?

These tests provide important clues but aren’t definitive for diagnosing facet arthropathy. These initial assessments help healthcare providers gather information and guide further diagnostic investigations.


X-rays can visualize the bony structures of the spine and detect any abnormalities. This includes:

  • Joint degeneration
  • Bone spurs
  • Narrowing of the joint spaces
X-rays may not provide a complete picture of the condition, especially in the early stages. They do help rule out other conditions and assess spine health.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An MRI scan provides detailed images of the spinal structures. This includes the facet joints, discs, and surrounding tissues. It can help identify:

  • Inflammation
  • Degenerative changes
  • Disc herniation
  • Nerve compression
An MRI is one of the most accurate imaging tests for diagnosing facet arthropathy.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

CT scans can provide cross-sectional spine images and help visualize the bony structures. It may be helpful in cases where MRI is contraindicated or if there is a need to assess bone anatomy.2

Diagnostic Facet Joint Injections

Facet joint injections are both diagnostic and therapeutic. Local anesthetic and a corticosteroid get injected into the facet joint.3


If the injection provides temporary pain relief, it suggests that the facet joint is a source of pain.

Medial Branch Blocks

Medial branch blocks involve injecting an anesthetic near the medial branch nerves. If the injection relieves pain, it suggests that the facet joint is the likely source of pain.4

Importance of Diagnostic Testing

These diagnostic tests help professionals check the presence and severity of facet arthropathy. This will then guide further treatment decisions. 


It’s essential to consult with a professional who can recommend the appropriate tests.

How Does the Diagnostic Process for Facet Arthropathy Differ from Other Spinal Disorders?

The diagnostic process for facet arthropathy shares similarities with other spinal disorders. But there are also some distinct differences. 


Here are some points that differentiate the diagnostic process for spinal disorders:

Focus on Facet Joints

Facet arthropathy focuses on the facet joints. These are small joints between the vertebrae in the spine. The diagnostic process for facet arthropathy involves assessing the condition of these joints.

What Do These Assessments Look For?

Assessment includes looking for signs of:


  • Degeneration
  • Inflammation
  • Other abnormalities

Other spinal disorders have different focus areas, such as intervertebral discs.

Imaging Techniques

Different imaging techniques can check facet arthropathy compared to other spinal disorders. Physicians use X-ray, MRI, and CT scans for the diagnosis of facet arthropathy.

Conditions like herniated discs or spinal stenosis may need specific imaging techniques. This includes discography, myelography, or electromyography (EMG) to assess the specific structures involved.

Diagnostic Injections

Facet joint injections are specific diagnostic procedures for facet arthropathy. These injections involve the targeted administration of anesthetic near the facet joints. This is to determine if they are the source of pain.

Symptom Presentation

The symptoms of facet arthropathy may overlap with other spinal disorders. Symptoms include:


  • Localized pain in the spine
  • Limited range of motion
  • Stiffness

Other spinal disorders may present symptoms specific to the structures involved. For example, herniated discs can cause radiating pain or numbness in the extremities.

Treatment Approaches

Treatment options for facet arthropathy differ from those of other spinal disorders. Diagnosing facet arthropathy helps determine the specific involvement of the facet joints. This will guide the treatment decisions.

Treatments After a Diagnosis of Facet Arthropathy

Treatments for facet arthropathy may include physical therapy and pain medication. In severe cases, surgery targeting the facet joints may be necessary. 


Other spinal disorders may need different treatment modalities. This includes conservative management, spinal decompression surgery, or fusion surgery.

Importance of Thorough Evaluation

Note that there can also be treatments that overlap between various spinal conditions. A thorough evaluation by a qualified healthcare professional is crucial. They can help identify the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Clinical Criteria for Diagnosing Facet Arthropathy

A diagnosis of facet arthropathy involves: 


  • Clinical criteria
  • Physical examination findings
  • Imaging studies

Here are some clinical criteria considered when diagnosing facet arthropathy.

Location of Pain

Facet arthropathy presents with localized pain in the spinal region. The pain is a deep, aching sensation in the lower back or neck.

Pattern of Pain

Movements that stress the facet joints may cause joint pain. Bending backward, twisting the spine, or extending the neck may worsen the pain.

Range of Motion

Facet arthropathy can affect the range of motion of the spine. Patients may experience stiffness or decreased flexibility in the affected region. 


For example, bending backward or rotating the spine may be painful or limited.


Palpation of the spine may reveal tenderness over the affected facet joints. The healthcare provider may press on specific areas to assess for localized pain.

Absence of Radicular Symptoms

Pain travel along nerve pathways and is not associated with facet arthropathy only. These symptoms occur in conditions like herniated discs or spinal stenosis.



Clinical criteria alone are not enough for an accurate diagnosis of facet arthropathy. Imaging studies are often used to assess for degenerative changes or other abnormalities.

Warning Signs that Show the Need for Further Testing

Certain warning signs suggest the possibility of conditions that need more investigation. Here are some warning signs that may warrant further testing.

Progressive or Severe Symptoms

These signs could include increased pain intensity and persistent or unrelenting pain. The development or worsening of neurological symptoms suggests the need for further testing.

Neurological Symptoms

Facet arthropathy does not cause significant neurological symptoms. It only affects the facet joints. These symptoms show the need for further testing to assess the nerve roots or spinal cord.

Trauma or Injury

Trauma can cause fractures, dislocations, or other structural damage to the spine. Those with a history of trauma may need certain tests for a diagnosis of facet arthropathy.

Systemic Symptoms

Systemic symptoms, alongside spinal pain, may show the need for further investigation. These symptoms can include:


  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • General decline in health

These warning signs do not guarantee a specific diagnosis of facet arthropathy. Consulting with a professional can help determine the next diagnostic steps to take.

Can Imaging Studies Provide a Diagnosis of Facet Arthropathy?

Imaging studies can provide valuable information and support the diagnosis of facet arthropathy. Still, they do not diagnose the condition on their own. 

Imaging is Essential

These imaging modalities are essential tools that help visualize the spine’s structures. This helps detect potential abnormalities associated with facet arthropathy.

Downfalls of X-Rays in the Diagnosis of Facet Arthropathy

X-rays alone may not provide a complete picture of facet arthropathy. They capture bony changes rather than soft tissue abnormalities.

Benefits of MRI Scans

MRI scans can provide high-resolution images of the facet joints. They are instrumental in visualizing inflammation and degenerative changes. 


MRI scans can assess the condition of the facet joints and rule out other spinal pathologies. MRI provides valuable information supporting the diagnosis of facet arthropathy.

Risk Factors Associated with Developing Facet Arthropathy

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing facet arthropathy. Certain factors predispose some to a higher risk of developing facet arthropathy. 


Here are some common risk factors.


The primary risk factor for facet arthropathy is aging. As people age, the facet joints’ cartilage undergoes wear and tear. This can lead to degenerative changes. 


Facet arthropathy is more prevalent in individuals over the age of 50.

Previous Spinal Injuries or Trauma

Previous spinal injuries can disrupt the structure and function of the facet joints. These injuries may increase the risk of developing facet arthropathy later in life.

Repetitive Stress and Overuse

Repetitive stress and overuse of the spine can lead to facet arthropathy. Heavy lifting activities can also increase the strain on the facet joints.


Excess weight stresses the spine and facet joints, accelerating the degenerative changes. Obesity can contribute to the development and progression of facet arthropathy.

Genetic Factors

Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to develop facet arthropathy. Genetic factors can influence the integrity of the cartilage in the facet joints.

Poor Posture and Body Mechanics

Poor postures or excessive curvature of the spine can increase the load on the facet joints.


Improper body mechanics during strenuous activities can strain the facet joints.

Joint Diseases and Conditions

Certain inflammatory joint diseases can increase the risk of developing facet arthropathy. Conditions that affect the spinal structures can lead to degeneration.

Important Note About Risk Factors

Having risk factors does not guarantee the development or diagnosis of facet arthropathy. Individuals without any risk factors can still develop the condition. 


But, awareness of these risk factors can help you take preventive measures. This includes maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding activities that strain the spine.

How do these Factors Impact the Diagnostic Process?

The risk factors associated with facet arthropathy can impact the diagnostic process. Here are some ways in which these factors can influence the diagnostic process.

Differential Diagnosis

Risk factors can help healthcare providers narrow down the causes of spinal pain. It will also help them differentiate facet arthropathy from other spinal disorders.

Diagnostic Test Selection

The presence of risk factors may influence the selection of diagnostic tests. 

Examples of When Imaging May Be Necessary

For example, suppose an individual has a history of trauma or injury to the spine. In that case, healthcare providers may consider ordering imaging studies such as X-rays. This looks for fractures or other structural damage and checks facet joints.

Treatment Considerations

Risk factors can also influence treatment considerations and decisions. If obesity is a risk factor, weight management will be part of the treatment plan.

If there are inflammatory joint diseases, treatment may involve addressing systemic inflammation.

Prognosis and Long-Term Management

Understanding the impact of risk factors can help healthcare providers plan long-term management. Some risk factors may show a higher likelihood of disease progression. Knowledge of them can help tailor the management approach to address each case.

Why Healthcare Providers Follow the Diagnostic Process

The diagnostic process involves a comprehensive evaluation that includes a thorough physical examination. Healthcare providers use these evaluations to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.

Does the Accuracy of Diagnosis Impact the Treatment of Facet Arthropathy?

A diagnosis of facet arthropathy is essential for determining appropriate treatment for patients. A precise diagnosis of facet arthropathy ensures the treatment addresses the underlying cause.


Here’s how the accuracy of diagnosis impacts treatment.

Targeted Treatment Approach

Accurate diagnosis of facet arthropathy allows physicians to develop a treatment plan. Different spinal conditions may have overlapping symptoms. 

Importance of Accurate Diagnosis

An accurate diagnosis helps differentiate facet arthropathy from other causes of spinal pain. This ensures the treatment approach addresses facet joint degeneration rather than unrelated conditions.

Appropriate Treatment Modalities

Accurate diagnosis of facet arthropathy guides the selection of appropriate treatment modalities. Treatment options for facet arthropathy include lifestyle modifications and interventional procedures.

Optimal Pain Management

Facet arthropathy can cause varying levels of pain and discomfort. An accurate diagnosis allows physicians to understand the source and mechanisms of pain. This enables them to develop a comprehensive pain management plan. 

Optimal Pain Management

Facet arthropathy can cause varying levels of pain and discomfort. An accurate diagnosis allows physicians to understand the source and mechanisms of pain. This enables them to develop a comprehensive pain management plan. 

What Does Pain Management Look Like?

This may involve targeted medications or physical therapy techniques focused on relieving pain.

Preventing Unnecessary Treatments or Surgeries

An accurate diagnosis helps avoid unnecessary or inappropriate treatments. Some spinal conditions may mimic the symptoms of facet arthropathy. 


Diagnosis of facet arthropathy prevents patients from undergoing unnecessary interventions and surgeries.

Long-Term Management and Prognosis

Accurate diagnosis provides valuable information and long-term management strategies. It helps healthcare providers assess the prognosis and develop appropriate follow-up plans. This ensures that patients receive ongoing monitoring, preventive measures, and interventions.

An accurate diagnosis of facet arthropathy ensures that patients receive appropriate treatment.

Facet Arthropathy Treatment at J. Flowers Health Institute

The diagnosis of facet arthropathy is crucial for guiding treatment decisions. It helps manage pain, preventing unnecessary procedures and ensuring optimal long-term patient care. An accurate diagnosis is vital in improving patient outcomes and quality of life.

Diagnosis of Facet Arthropathy

Importance of Choosing the Proper Treatment

It is important to pick the proper diagnostics and treatment center during recovery. J. Flowers Health Institute delivers the future of healthcare aimed at whole-person wellness.

How J. Flowers Health Can Help With Your Diagnosis of Facet Arthropathy

At J. Flowers Health, we understand the importance of a person’s physical health. It can impact their mental and emotional well-being. J Flowers Health integrates various therapeutic modalities to address the whole person. 

Individualized Treatment Plans

We make sure to tailor your treatment plan to your unique needs and treatment goals.


This promotes optimal health outcomes and empowers individuals to lead healthier lives.

Contact J. Flowers Health Today

Reach out to J. Flowers Health today for more information about our treatment options.