Skeletal Radiology

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 13–23

The lumbar facet joint: a review of current knowledge: part 1: anatomy, biomechanics, and grading


  • Gerard P. Varlotta
    • NYU School of MedicineRusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine
    • NYU School of MedicineRusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine
  • Mark Schweitzer
    • The Ottawa HospitalThe University of Ottawa
  • Thomas J. Errico
    • NYU School of Medicine
  • Jeffrey Spivak
    • NYU School of Medicine
  • John A. Bendo
    • NYU School of Medicine
  • Leon Rybak
    • NYU School of Medicine
Review Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00256-010-0983-4

Cite this article as:
Varlotta, G.P., Lefkowitz, T.R., Schweitzer, M. et al. Skeletal Radiol (2011) 40: 13. doi:10.1007/s00256-010-0983-4


We present a two-part review article on the current state of knowledge of lumbar facet joint pathology. This first article discusses the functional anatomy, biomechanics, and radiological grading systems currently in use in clinical practice and academic medicine. Facet joint degeneration is presented within the larger context of degenerative disc disease to enable the reader to better understand the anatomical changes underlying facet-mediated lower back pain. Other less-common, but equally important etiologies of lumbar facet joint degeneration are reviewed. The existing grading systems are discussed with specific reference to the reliability of CT and MR imaging in the diagnosis of lumbar facet osteoarthritis. It is hoped that this discussion will stimulate debate on how best to improve the diagnostic reliability of these tests so as to improve both operative and non-operative treatment outcomes.


Lumbar facet jointZygapophyseal joint painFacet-mediated painLumbar intra-articular steroid injectionLumbar medial branch blockLumbar medial branch neurotomy

Copyright information

© ISS 2010