About 291,000 Americans are currently suffering from a form of spinal cord injury or more. Needless to say, diagnosing spinal instability has become more important than ever before.

There is a wide range of motion between two vertebrae in the spine, known as lumbar instability when a disc degenerates to the point that it can no longer sustain the weight of the body. It raises the chance of developing spinal arthritis and bone spurs in the spine.

Read on to learn all about spinal instability, and the nuances of spine motion. We’ll cover the basics, then explain all about the common symptoms and treatments you could avail yourself of.

What Is Spinal Instability?

What Is Spinal Instability

You may have one, two, or three “sub-systems” that have a significant impact on your spine at all times. To name a few:

  • the spinal column and its ligaments
  • the muscles responsible for moving the spine
  • your nervous system

For example, in the event that a sub-system is injured by age-related degeneration or fractures, the other two sub-systems must compensate for it.

You may find yourself with an unstable spine, which may not be able to bear the weight of your own body, much alone the additional burden of lifting up children, carrying groceries, etc.

Notice how the stability of the spine may be influenced by a variety of factors. As a result, the approach to treating or managing it will vary based on the sub-system in question and the specifics of its malfunction.

Spinal Column and Ligaments

According to Biely, et. al. in their study, “Clinical Instability of the Lumbar Spine: Diagnosis and Intervention,” spinal column injury or damage is the most prevalent cause of spinal instability.

A variety of issues may arise in the spinal column since it is a complicated structure. Consider the following.

The spinal column is made up of 33 bones that are connected by discs. Vertebral bodies have a cushioning disc between them, which is where it all begins. Most vertebrae have a ring of bone in the back of them. The spinal cord, a vital part of your central nervous system, may travel through the ring’s hollow interior.

Both sides of the bony ring are adorned with facial features (top and bottom). In order to preserve the spine’s structural integrity and range of mobility, facet joints perform a critical function.

Spinal Muscles

Spinal Muscles

Your spine’s strong engines are your muscles. Stiffness and stability are two of their primary responsibilities.

Weakness or injury to the muscles that support the spine, such as the multifidus or the transverse abdominals, may lead to spinal instability. Electromyography (EMG) is often used to identify muscle changes, whereas ultrasound may indicate a wasting of deep spinal muscles (which is a symptom of weakness).

Central Nervous System

The nerve system is the third component of the spinal column that affects stability. The neurological system will generate movement impulses. It’ll receive information about the spinal column’s location and respond by sending signals back to the brain.

Muscles contract as a result of these impulses. Next, the muscle contractions will propel the motions of the spine, which also provides stability.

It’s possible to have a problem with this neural control sub-system if your muscles are sluggish to contract or if they do so in an irregular way. An EMG test may pick up on these two elements. This may lead to alterations in spinal movement patterns that can expert observers can see and identify (or by a motion detector machine).

Signs and Symptoms

Back discomfort, stiffness, muscular spasms, and a sense that the back is “giving way” are all symptoms of spinal misalignment. Exercises that put additional strain on the spine, such as lifting and twisting large things, may exacerbate the discomfort. In addition, spinal disc and vertebrae dislocation might induce nerve root or spinal cord irritation and compression.

As lumbar spine nerves are squeezed, sciatica develops as a group of symptoms. Sharp, searing or electric pain radiates from the low back down to the buttock, thigh, calf, and foot.

Aside from tingling, numbness, and weakness, the same route might also be affected. Coughing, sneezing, or laughing may aggravate sciatic pain. Standing or sitting for lengthy periods of time might also provoke it.

Preventative Methods and Treatment Options

Conservative methods are used to treat mild occurrences of spinal instability. Treatment aims to alleviate discomfort and strengthen the muscles that support the spine. The following are possible recommendations from your physician.

You can start by changing the way you do things. For instance, you’ll want to avoid activities that produce discomfort or muscular spasms, such as strenuous exercise.


Acetaminophen and anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen) may be used over-the-counter to alleviate mild to severe discomfort.

In cases of severe pain and muscular spasm, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medicine or muscle relaxants.


Spinal instability may be treated with physical therapy. Back, core, and lower leg muscles are all targeted in therapy to improve stability and support of the spine.

Additionally, your therapist will teach you low-impact workouts and strengthening exercises that you can perform on your own time at home to help you stay fit and prevent injury. You can also discuss spinal decompression therapy options with your physical therapist.


Corticosteroid injections directly into the spine help alleviate inflammation and irritation around compressed nerve roots. For the most part, the effects of cortisone injections are transient, lasting just a few months or perhaps a year.

A surgical procedure is an option if conservative therapy fails to alleviate pain and symptoms.

Surgical Interventions

Spinal instability ranging from mild to severe is typically a medical need, particularly if nerve compression and nerve injury are present. The deteriorated disc may be removed surgically and replaced with a synthetic disc.

Remove the deteriorated disc and attach two nearby vertebrae, reducing the risk of movement and instability.

Simplifying Back Injury and Spinal Instability Issues

Spinal Fusion

Most of us will have to deal with back problems at least once in our lifetime. The key to a healthy back lies in identifying the early signs of spinal instability before it becomes too severe.

Hopefully, our guide has shed some light on how to do so and the treatment options currently available. And, you might want to read more about back health in our health and lifestyle sections to stay informed.

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