Neck pain & Headaches - Cervical Facet Joint Syndrome

Most people experience neck and headache pain at some stage and in many cases irritation of the facet joints of the neck are culprits for this pain. The facet joints are small joints or hinges that link each vertebrae or bony block of the spine together. They are located on both sides of vertebrae as it intersects with the vertebras directly above it and directly below it. Its role is to provide stability and control of neck movement. Problems arise when these facet joint slip out of correct spinal alignment into a locked position causing painful stretching and irritation of its surrounding joint capsule which protects and lubricates the joint.

This can occur as a result of trauma to the body such as Whiplash from a car accident or indeed a simple fall to the ground. In addition poor posture such as sitting with the head protruding forward creates early degeneration of the facet joints leading joint capsule irritation. It is important to note that facet joint pain can also occur without the facet joints becoming locked out of their correct position. Such an example is when disc height reduces in a person who has protruding head posture causing the facet surfaces to be pressed closer together leading to irritation within the joint capsule.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Headache pain – facet joint dysfunction can refer pain to the top of the head, eye region and to the side of the head.

  • Restricted neck movement

  • Inflamed and swollen muscles at the back of the neck

  • Neck pain is aggravated on turning the neck to the side (e.g. when driving) and when looking upwards (extending the neck backwards).

  • Driving, sitting at the Laptop can aggravate dull achy pain into the neck & Shoulder Blade.

Treatment & Management

When a Patient comes to my clinic presenting with neck pain caused by Cervical Facet syndrome, I need to examine the cervical spine for an abnormal facet position and then proceed to mobilise the facet back into its true position through gentle graded mobilisation. This will have the effect of improving neck movement. Stretching of the surrounding tightened neck muscles is necessary coupled with homecare strengthening exercises for the spine is very important also.

Tomás Ryan is a Registered Physical Therapist with The Irish Association of Physical Therapy and is based in Thurles.Contact Number: 0504 26672 Email your queries to:

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Physiotherapy & Injury Rehabilitation Clinic in Tipperary

0504 26672


The Surgery, Fianna Road, Thurles


Riverside Medical Centre, 7 Upper

Irishtown, Clonmel

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