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A facet joint is also referred to as an apophyseal joint or a zygopophyseal joint.

There is a facet joint either side of each vertebral level of the spine.  It locks one level of the spine to the level above.

A facet joint is surrounded by a joint capsule, and there is cartilage within the joint.  The joint can be sprained, locked, stiff, or degenerative.

A facet joint can become locked in the neck.  This often occurs following a rapid movement. It is extremely painful and restrictive to movement of the neck.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Sudden onset of pain

  • Sharp pain on movement of the neck

  • Pain affecting one side of the neck

  • Tilting of head away (list) from the painful side

  • Muscle spasm

What Causes It?

  • Sudden movement

  • Trauma

  • Poor stability of the deep stabilising neck muscles

How to Self Manage

  • Avoid moving the neck into painful positions

  • If tolerated, and if spasm is prominent, heat can be used to decrease pain and relax muscle spasm


Can resolve spontaneously, but if pain and restriction continues, medication and manual treatment would be of benefit.

How Physio Helps

  • Joint mobilisation

  • Joint manipulation

  • Massage

  • Acupuncture

  • Manual traction

  • Prescription of exercises to address muscle tightness

  • Prescription of strengthening exercises to improve stability of the neck

  • Electrotherapy

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