Zygapophyseal joints are located in the posterior part of the spine. They are also known as facet joints or Z joints, typically to avoid difficult medical terminology.
Each spinal segment, vertebra, has a pair of facet joints. One pair faces upward (superior articular facet) and one downward (inferior articular facet). There is one joint on each side (right and left). Facet joints are hinge-like and link vertebrae together. The main role of these joints is to guide the motion of the spine. Each facet joint is innervated by two sensory nerves. These sensory nerves, which transmit the signal of pain from our facet joints to our spinal cord, plays a vital role in both the diagnosis and treatment of neck and back pain from the facet joints.
The facet joints slide on each other and both sliding surfaces are normally coated by a very low friction moist cartilage, which is a small sac or capsule that surrounds each facet joint. This provides the sticky lubricant for the joint. Each capsule has a rich supply of tiny nerve fibres that provide a warning when irritated.
As the facet joints are in constant use they can simply wear out or the cartilage may become thin or disappear. This may result in the growth of bone spurs and an enlargement of the joint, which can lead to back pain.
Keeping the back healthy is key and this can be achieved by performing activities using the correct posture (keeping the spine in neutral where possible) plus working through a healthy range of movements. Here are some Pilates exercises that will help strengthen and mobilise the spine and the individual joints: