Reach behind and feel the back of your neck. This is your cervical spine. Cervical facet irritation is a painful condition affecting the joints in this area, called the cervical facet joints. These are responsible for connecting the vertebrae (individual bones) in the spine, providing the cervical spine with protection, allowing for normal range of motion, limiting excessive range of motion and preventing the vertebrae from locking together.
People with cervical facet irritation have problems with these joints, and for that reason primarily complain of neck stiffness, often accompanied by shoulder pain and upper back pain. The pain tends to worsen when they tilt their head back in a way that compresses the irritated area.
Cervical facet irritation develops when there's inflammation of the facet joints. Awkward neck movements, subluxations (stuck or misaligned joints), acute injuries, poor posture and tightness in the muscles that attach the back and shoulder to the cervical spine can place stress on the cervical facet joints and limit their motion, which leads to irritation and local pain.
Subluxations are major contributors to the condition, because they limit the joints' ability to move through their normal range of motion, preventing them from functioning properly. When the joints are aligned and able to move through their normal range of motion, they lubricate themselves and remain healthy. When subluxated, however, they no longer lubricate themselves and begin to stick, like an unused door hinge. This stickiness causes irritation.
Such problems generally occur after people hold their neck in a particular position for a long time or develop poor posture or sleeping habits. If you have ever fallen asleep and woken up with a sore, stiff neck then you've probably experienced this. While you were sleeping, your neck was most likely in a vulnerable position. Some occupations, like secretarial positions, also tend to cause this, because of the neck's angle while people are looking at their computer or holding a phone to their shoulder. Jobs that require staring at a computer screen, answering telephones or lifting heavy objects can strain neck and back muscles, increasing people's risk of the condition.
If the causes and symptoms of cervical facet irritation sound familiar, see your chiropractor as soon as possible. Cervical facet irritation is closely related to cervical facet syndrome, a more serious condition that involves referred pain in the shoulder, upper back and sometimes back of the head. Facet irritation often precedes facet syndrome, particularly when people don't get their facet irritation cared for properly.
Fortunately, your chiropractor can provide effective care for cervical facet irritation, and help prevent cervical facet syndrome from developing. He or she will probably use an adjustment, also known as spinal manipulative therapy, to restore movement in any irritated joints, promote healing and relax tight muscles.