Cervical instability is a medical disease in which the upper spine’s ligaments become loose and cause nerve pain and other symptoms.

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Cervical Instability

Cervical InstabilityCervical instability classifies as a medical disease in which the upper cervical spine’s weak ligaments cause nerve damage and a slew of other symptoms. As part of this disease, patients may get headaches, vertigo, fainting, memory loss, or nausea. Doctors can greatly help their patients by stopping pain and adding stability. Therefore, let’s take it step-by-step through the symptoms, causes, treatments, diagnosis, and prevention of this disease.

The Definition of Cervical Instability

When the ligaments that connect your spinal cord to your skull become loose, you have cervical instability. For instance, the top two cervical vertebrae allow additional movement of the head because of “lax ligaments,” which can cause the symptoms outlined in the first paragraph of this page.  Also, ligament laxity refers to the loosening of ligaments that connect bones. Furthermore, this condition might go beyond the neck and affect the entire body or simply some other sections of it.

You may have noticed a friend bend their finger in an unusual manner. This is most likely caused by ligament laxity, which leads to other joints moving or bending more than they should. Your friend’s finger ligaments are lax and allow for a broader range of motion. An abnormal range of motion in your neck can indicate Cervical instability and other genetic connective tissue diseases can induce ligament laxity. In addition, ligaments at the following two joints can cause this disease:

  1. Atlanto-occipital joint
  2. Atlanto-axial joint

There are other terms that also describe Cervical instability.

Questions and Answers

What are the Symptoms of Cervical Instability

The symptoms of cervical instability can vary but often include neck pain, stiffness, headaches, dizziness, muscle weakness, tingling or numbness in the arms or hands, and difficulty maintaining balance. Some individuals may also experience pain or discomfort while moving the neck or during certain activities.

How is Cervical Instability Diagnosed

The diagnosis of cervical instability typically involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, and imaging tests. A healthcare professional, such as an orthopedic specialist or neurosurgeon, may conduct a thorough examination of the neck, evaluate the range of motion, and assess neurological function. Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans may be ordered to visualize the cervical spine and detect any structural abnormalities or instability.

What are the Treatment Options for Cervical Instability

The treatment of cervical instability depends on the underlying cause, severity of symptoms, and individual factors. Non-surgical treatment options may include rest, physical therapy, pain management through medication or injections, and wearing a cervical collar or brace to provide support. In cases where conservative measures are not effective or if there is significant instability, surgical intervention may be considered. Surgical options can include spinal fusion, where the unstable vertebrae are joined together, or other procedures aimed at stabilizing the cervical spine.

What Causes Cervical Instability?

The bones and cartilage that make up your neck and backbone wear down with age. These changes might include:

  • Dehydrated discs:

Between the bones of your spine, discs serve as cushions. Most people’s spinal discs begin to dry out and shrink around the age of 40 and generate:

  • Bone spurs:

As a result of disc degradation, the spine will make additional bone. It occurs as a result of an attempt to strengthen the spine. These bone spurs might squeeze the spinal cord and nerve roots and cause:

  • Stiff ligaments:

Ligaments join bones together. Your spinal ligaments stiffen as you become older, making your neck less flexible and in certain cases causing:

  • Trauma:

A car collision, for example, might cause trauma to the cervical spine. Micro-injuries and repeated trauma can also cause:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA):

Rheumatoid arthritis and other disorders can cause problems to the cervical spine.

Symptoms of Cervical Instability?

Neck pain is becoming more common as we use smartphones, laptops, and other technologies that become available. Also, neck, head, and shoulder pain might appear perfectly bland and have a clear cause in many cases, but for certain men and women, a severe condition lurks beneath the surface.  For those that have cervical vertebrae that can move beyond their normal range of motion, they can develop cervical instability. Then, the cervical spine can no longer support the head or allow the patient to flex, twist, and turn their head fully — without pain.

Because the signs of cervical instability often seem confusing, knowing the exact reason for your pain requires a doctor’s skill. A proper diagnosis becomes essential for receiving the right treatment and relief from severe symptoms. In most cases, a doctor is the only person who can find the source of neck pain. When it comes to finding the origin of your pain and seeking treatment, doctors look for symptoms to determine whether you have cervical spine instability. Among them are:

  • Inability to hold one’s head erect for long periods of time
  • Pain in the upper neck, towards the skull
  • Shoulder pain that was referred
  • Head feels heavy
  • Neck muscles that are tight or stiff.
  • Tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Neck/head trembling or unsteadiness
  • Dizziness/imbalance

Treating Cervical Instability

If you’re having any of the above symptoms and suspect they’re connected to cervical instability, seeing a trained spine doctor becomes one of the most important things you can do. For this disease, there are five recommended treatments:

  1. Surgery
  2. Physical therapy
  3. Strengthening exercises
  4. Prolotherapy
  5. Chiropractic

For cervical instability therapy, the above five treatments appear as the most popular.


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Unless your disease appears severe, doctors do not advise surgery.  However, surgery will control the life-altering symptoms of cervical instability in the most severe patients and stop the pain in the upper spine. Also, the following identifies the most used surgical therapy options:

  • Cervical fusion spine surgery
  • Halifax clamp
  • Along with the lateral mass of the atlas vertebra and the pedicle of the axis vertebra, doctors use screw-rod constructions.
  • Posterior wiring

When minor problems appear, Cervical spine fusion will halt cervical instability. Upon receiving surgery, patients with pain and moderate myelopathy achieve the best outcome for this disease.  Because surgery is invasive and costly, our doctors always begin with treatments like physical therapy.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy works well to treat cervical instability and we normally advise patients to undergo physical therapy for excellent outcomes. Also, the following depicts what physical therapy entails.

  • Strengthening exercises
  • Posture education
  • Joint mobilization
  • Soft tissue mobilization
  • Spinal manipulation
  • Proprioception exercises

Depending on the degree of your cervical instability and if you had surgery prior to this, you may or may not need to wear a brace or cervical collar. According to a two-year follow-up research study, surgery improves patient outcomes after one year. After two years, however, physical therapy was not better than surgery in terms of relieving symptoms. To put it another way, surgery becomes a quick fix for this condition and it reduces pain.

Strengthening Exercises

Before doing these exercises to aid with cervical instability, always see your doctor or physical therapist. To prevent and cure this disease, the following are five exercise examples:

  • Chin tucks help your posture and neck joints by stretching and strengthening them. Thus, the most typical exercise for improving cervical stability is chin tucks.
  • To strengthen the neck region, mix workouts with an active range of motion. In order to learn workouts, view YouTube videos.
  • The joints and muscles of the upper cervical spine can also become strengthened by rotating the neck gently and carefully.
  • Neck motions such as yes and no assist to stretch the muscles and joints in the neck. So, nod your head gently up and down for the yes action and shake your head gently from left to right for a no motion.
  • The pressure on the spine gets reduced by maintaining good posture. Accordingly, spend as much time as possible practicing proper posture. With each passing day, you should maintain proper posture.
  • Any workout or movement that causes you pain should be stopped. If you’re in pain, take it easy, and don’t push yourself any farther.


This is a relatively recent option for cervical instability that has few negative effects. Prolotherapy is an injection procedure used to strengthen and mend broken joints and ligaments by stimulating the body’s natural healing processes. For example, it’s designed to treat acute and chronic problems, such as cervical instability, which causes chronic neck pain due to underlying joint instability and ligament laxity. By receiving these injections, patients with this disease might avoid surgery. On the other hand, this treatment has yet to show that it produces long-term results in every patient. Therefore, many patients seek both chiropractic and physical therapy after these treatments fail to provide long-term pain relief.


Chiropractors address, treat, and help people with headaches, poor posture, and spinal problems, all of which have been linked to this disease. Furthermore, cervical instability, joint diseases, and other issues can respond favorably to spinal chiropractic treatment. When conducted by a highly experienced chiropractor, spinal manipulation appears as a safe but not always effective therapy for patients with this disease.

How to Prevent Cervical Instability

For persons with connective tissue diseases, our doctors recommend the following:

  • Make regular appointments with your doctor
  • Every day, do one minute of chin tucks.
  • Every day, work on your posture.
  • Avoid events that may cause whiplash or other spinal injuries.

In conclusion, to stay in excellent health, everyone should follow these guidelines — especially those with connective tissue problems or neck or spine problems.  At the Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute, with offices in DallasPlano, and Frisco, Texas, we encourage people to get checked early on for neck pain.  In the majority of cases, our doctors will not find a serious condition, but in certain cases, early detection and treatment can have a positive effect on enjoying future decades of a wonderful life — pain-free. So pick up the phone today and give us a call.


National Institute of Health: Cervical Instability


If you or a loved one suffers from Cervical Instability or spinal pain, you owe it to yourself to call Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute at
214-556-0555 to make an appointment.