Facet capsule injury has been hypothesised as a mechanism for neck pain. While qualitative studies have demonstrated the proximity of neck muscles to the cervical facet capsule, the magnitude of their forces remains unknown owing to a lack of quantitative muscle geometry. In this study, histological techniques were employed to quantify muscle insertions on the human cervical facet capsule. Computerised image analysis of slides stained with Masson's trichrome was performed to characterise the geometry of the cervical facet capsule and determine the total insertion area of muscle fibres into the facet capsule for the C4–C5 and C5–C6 joints. Muscle insertions were found to cover 22·4±9·6 % of the capsule area for these cervical levels, corresponding to a mean muscle insertion area of 47·6±21·8 mm2. The magnitude of loading to the cervical facet capsule due to eccentric muscle contraction is estimated to be as high as 51 N. When taken in conjunction with the forces acting on the capsular ligament due to vertebral motions, these forces can be as high as 66 N. In that regard, these anatomical data provide quantitative evidence of substantial muscle insertions into the cervical facet capsular ligament and provide a possible mechanism for injury to this ligament and the facet joint as a whole.
Keywords: Spine; facet joints; neck pain