What is cervical instability, its symptoms and its treatment?
Cervical instability is a medical problem; losing upper cervical spine ligaments may cause neuronal damage and other symptoms.
Other conditions that accompany cervical instability include migraine, vertigo or nausea. Although healthcare providers treat this condition, it is not curable.
This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cervical instability.
Cervical instability is a condition that occurs because of the loose ligaments between the skull and spinal cord, known as “lax ligaments”. These ligaments help in top cervical vertebrae movement. In this state, bone-to-bone ligaments lose and cause chronic pain. It can affect the body partially or completely.
In some cases, the loose tendons cause hyperextends fingers or joint hypermobility syndrome. In these conditions, the connecting ligaments between the finger and bone loss, increasing the range of motion. More neck motion can trigger cervical instability. It can be genetic tissue connectivity disorders like Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
The joints at which ligaments can lose cause cervical instability.
- Atlanto-occipital joint/
- Atlanto-axial joint.
Alternative names for cervical instability are
- Craniovetebral instability,
- Craniocervical instability,
- Cervical spine instability,
- Cervical neck instability
- Atlantoaxial instability
Symptoms of cervical instability
The major symptoms of cervical instability include
- A feeling of a skull falling off from the spine
- Occipital headaches
- Muscle spasms
- Jaw, shoulder or neck pain
- Difficulty in swallowing
- The skull base tenderness
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Ear ringing (Tinnitus)
- Orthostatic intolerance
- Limb weakness
- Breath shortening
- Lhermitte’s sigh
- Cognitive decline
- Memory loss
How to diagnose cervical instability?
Cervical instability tests include four methods
- AKA magnetic resonance imaging (Upright MRI)
- Supine MRI (MRI while lying on your back)
- CT scan (AKA computerized tomography)
- Digital x-ray
It is important to note here that MRI has limited diagnostic value. Healthcare providers can diagnose cervical instability.
- 135 degrees Clivo-Axial Angle
- Grabb-Oaks measurement equal to or more than 9 mm
- Harris measurement of more than 12mm
- Spinal subluxation
Major causes of cervical instability
Ligament laxity between the top vertebrae and skull, known as cervical spine instability, allows excess movement causing neurological and physical symptoms.
Factors causing ligament laxity leading to cervical instability
- Injury or whiplash
- Disorders in connective tissues like rheumatoid arthritis or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
- Tethered cord syndrome
- Chiari malformation.
Treatment for cervical instability.
- Physical therapy
- Strengthening exercises
Results are not guaranteed of any treatment for cervical instability. The mentioned-above help in cervical instability.
Chiropractic care is an effective and common treatment for poor posture, headaches, and spinal misalignments related to cervical instability.
Studies show that healthcare providers use spinal chiropractic manipulatives to rectify cervical instability, cervical vertebrae dislocations or joint disorders.
Spinal manipulation is effective and safe therapy. Only highly qualified chiropractor performs this therapy.
Here at complete medical wellness practice, we successfully treat cervical instability patients. Gentle adjustment of the upper spine vertebrae is important to recover from cervical instability.
Do you need surgery for cervical instability? Healthcare providers require surgery only if cervical instability goes out of control. In severe cases, surgery is the only option to manage life-changing options of cervical instability.
Generally, healthcare providers use surgical treatments to correct dysfunction of the craniocervical junction, where the upper spine meets the skull.
The major surgical treatments include
- Cervical fusion (Spine surgery)
- Halifax clamp
- Screw-rod constructs
- Transarticular screws
- Posterior sublaminar wiring
If your healthcare provider detects slight subluxations, he may perform a cervical spine fusion. In severe cases, the neck movement stops.
Research shows that in patients with mild myelopathy and severe pain, healthcare providers may get efficient surgery results. However, conservative treatments like chiropractic care or physical therapy can be effective. Since surgery can be expensive and invasive, so your healthcare provider may ask for conservative treatment first.
Physical therapy is one of the effective treatments for cervical instability. Healthcare providers from complete medical wellness suggest patients’ physical therapy and chiropractic care achieve the best outcomes.
Physical therapies can help you in
- Strengthening exercises
- Posture education
- Joint mobilization.
- Soft tissue mobilization
- Spinal manipulation
- Proprioception exercises.
- Wearing a cervical collar or a brace depends on the requirement and severity of the cervical instability or history of previous surgery.
According to studies, surgeries improve patient outcomes within one year, but physical therapy shows results after two years of treatment.
You consult a physical therapist or healthcare provider before starting strengthening exercises to recover from cervical instability.
Examples of strengthening exercises to prevent or treat cervical instability are
Chin tucks: It is the most common to strengthen and stretch your neck joints and posture.
Isometric exercise: your physical therapist may combine isometric exercise with an active range of motion, strengthening your neck area.
Neck rotating: it can strengthen muscles and joints surrounding the upper cervical spine slowly and methodologically.
No, and yes, neck motion exercises. It can help in stretching joints and muscles around the neck. A “yes” neck movement is nodding head up or down slowly, whereas a “no” motion is to shake the head right and left.
Practicing better posture: a good posture minimizes pressure on the spine. It can help you if you maintain good posture every day. You can increase the time of these exercises comfortably.
We suggest discontinuing the movement or exercise that may trigger pain. Pain is a sign that you must take rest or push yourself more.
Prolotherapy is a new treatment for cervical instability with no visible side effects. It is a regenerative injection stimulating your natural curing process to repair and strengthen injured ligaments and joints.
The healthcare provider uses this therapy for chronic and acute musculoskeletal injuries that cause chronic neck pain related to primary joint instability or ligament laxity.
Studies showed that consistent use of prolotherapy improves neck pain in patients with whiplash.
Healthcare providers use stem cell prolotherapy to repair ligaments. It is also considered a surgery alternative. There is no proof that this therapy has permanent results. Healthcare providers may sometimes suggest combining physical therapy and chiropractic care after prolotherapy treatment.
What are the prevention options for cervical instability?
Patient with connective tissue disorder commonly has cervical instability. Patients with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome have higher risk levels and require preventive techniques to prevent cervical instability. The prevention techniques for cervical instability are
- Regular visits to the chiropractor.
- Do strengthening exercises, like chin tucks, regularly.
- Practice good posture daily.
- Avoiding situations associated with trauma or whiplash to the spine.
Prognosis or long-term outlook.
There is no proper diagnosis of cervical instability. For example, connective disorders can trigger cervical instability, affecting nearly 5000 people globally. If you experience symptoms of cervical instability, you must contact your chiropractor or healthcare provider immediately.
Cervical instability is a manageable disorder with high-quality treatments. Click here to make an appointment for chiropractic care provided by complete medical wellness. We help you in complete personal healing from cervical instability.