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Clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction are dependent on establishing a proper diagnosis. A definitive diagnosis should create a pathway of care to provide the patient with a realistic prognosis. Unfortunately, that is not always the case in clinical practice.

Lumbar Facet Syndrome is one of the most common diagnoses made by chiropractors. Check out the following video to watch Dr. Brandon Steele differentiate between Lumbar Facet Syndrome and a less frequent variant called Maigne’ Syndrome – plus review some clinical pearls that can dramatically impact your outcomes.


“Lumbar facet syndrome” describes acute or chronic inflammation of a lumbar zygapophyseal joint. The facet joint is thought to be the source of pain in 15-45% of patients with chronic low back pain. (1-6) The literature is mottled with various explanations for the genesis of facet syndrome, including a capsular sprain, joint hypomobility, synovial cysts, and degeneration. (7-9) The term “facet syndrome” shares many common characteristics with intersegmental joint dysfunction, to the point that some clinicians characterize facet syndrome as the medical equivalent of intersegmental joint dysfunction. Manipulation and exercise generally lead to excellent outcomes for facet-mediated pain.

What do you do when your treatments for Facet Syndrome do not work?

There is a cohort of patients that receive little to no benefit after conservative care. Non-response will often lead to confusion and usually a dissatisfied patient. What if the patient and physician are wrong, and the pain is not originating from the lower lumbar spine?

Consider Maigne’s Syndrome in patients with localized unilateral LBP and skin hypersensitivity at the lumbosacral junction made worse with extension (Kemp’s Yeomans). Maigne found that some low back pain is from irritation of the lateral branches of the spinal dorsal rami at the thoracolumbar region. These lateral branches originating from T12 and L1 innervate the dermatome just below the lateral iliac crest and posterior to the anterior superior iliac, while the L2 and L3 lateral branches innervate the buttocks. More importantly, there are no cutaneous branches of the L4 and L5 that mimick sensory symptoms in the lower back.

Here are some differentiating tips to help with the diagnosis of dorsal ramus mediated LBP.

Facet Syndrome

  • Lumbosacral joint dysfunction
  • Most commonly occurs in the lower lumbar segments such as L5- S1, L4-5, and L3-4 respectively.
  • Pain occurs at the level of spinal joint dysfunction

Maigne’s Syndrome

  • Thoracolumbar joint dysfunction
  • Accompanied by muscle spasm
  • Primary pain is in the upper lumbar spine radiating distally

Hindsight is always 20/20—especially with regards to differential diagnosis. Physicians commonly encounter obscure diagnoses resembling a standard presentation. To avoid treating the wrong problem, always ask patients which activities, postures, and past treatments relieve or exacerbate their condition. Correlating these answers with an appropriate exam will lead to a more definitive diagnosis – preventing you from reinventing the wheel with procedures and recommendations.

When people seek chiropractic care, often they are often looking for a solution that requires a different thought process. The difference in treatment becomes the mindset and training of the practitioner.

ChiroUp will show you how to save time, improve your clinical outcomes, and market your outcomes. Together we can show a greater percentage of the population HOW and WHY we are the best choice for non-surgical musculoskeletal care. Try ChiroUp at no cost for 14 days.



  1. Ray CD. Percutaneous Radiofrequency Facet Nerve Blocks: Treatment of the Mechanical Low Back Syndrome. Radionics Procedure Technique Series. Burlington, Mass: Radionics Inc; 1982.
  2. Schwarzer AC, Aprill CN, Derby R, Fortin J, Kine G, Bogduk N: Clinical features of patients with pain stemming from the lumbar zygapophysial joints. Is the lumbar facet syndrome a clinical entity? Spine 1994, 19:1132-1137.
  3. Manchikanti L, Singh V, Pampati V, Damron K, Barnhill R, Beyer C, Cash K: Evaluation of the relative contributions of various structures in chronic low back pain. Pain Physician 2001, 4:308-316.
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  6. Bogduk N: International Spinal Injection Society guidelines for the performance of spinal injection procedures. Part 1: Zygapophyseal joint blocks. Clin J Pain 1997, 13:285-302
  7. Malanga GA et al. Lumbosacral Facet Syndrome MedScape www.emedicine.medscape.com/article/94871-overview. Accessed 2/15/14.
  8. Ghormley RK. Low back pain with special reference to the articular facets, with presentation of an operative procedure. JAMA. 1933;101:1773-7.
  9. Harris RI, Macnab I. Structural changes in the lumbar intervertebral discs; their relationship to low back pain and sciatica. J Bone Joint Surg Br. May 1954;36-B(2):304-22
  10. Kozera K, et al. Posterior Branches of Lumbar Spinal Nerves – Part III: Spinal Dorsal Ramus Mediated Back Pain – Pathomechanism, Symptomatology and Diagnostic Work-up. Ortop Traumatol Rehabil. 2017.

About the Author

Dr. Brandon Steele

Dr. Brandon Steele


Dr. Steele began his career at The Central Institute for Human Performance. Dr. Steele has trained with experts including Pavel Kolar, Stuart McGill, Brett Winchester, and Clayton Skaggs. He has been certified in Motion Palpation, DNS, ART, and McKenzie Therapy. Dr. Steele lectures extensively on clinical excellence and evidence-based musculoskeletal management. He currently practices in Swansea, IL and serves on the executive board of the ICS.

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