Cervical facet osteoarthritis, sometimes called cervical facet joint syndrome, is a degenerative condition that causes pain and stiffness in the cervical, or neck, region of the spine.
The cervical spine includes the top seven levels of the spine, labeled C1 through C7.
There are two facet joints on either side of the back of each vertebra in the neck. These joints provide stability, while also enabling neck movements such as turning or nodding the head.
Cartilage lines each facet joint in the neck, and this cartilage is surrounded by a capsule filled with synovial fluid.
This synovial fluid helps lubricate the facet joint, enabling smooth movements of the joint complex.
In cervical facet osteoarthritis, this cartilage begins to degenerate, or break down.
The cartilage begins to thin and may even disappear completely, causing bone-on-bone friction of the facet joints in the neck.
This friction can lead to the development of osteophytes, or bone spurs.
If these osteophytes impinge on any cervical nerve roots, pain, weakness, or tingling may radiate along the path of the nerve into the arm and hand.
Cervical facet osteoarthritis may cause pain in the neck and upper back as well as the shoulders and between the shoulder blades.
It may also cause headaches, a form of radiated or referred pain, especially in the back of the head.
Patients with cervical osteoarthritis will often have tenderness or swelling over the site of the affected facet joints, as well as reduced range of motion in the neck.