Treating segmental instability in the cervical spine

Segmental instability in the cervical (upper) spine describes any type of spine condition that causes the anatomy of the spine to change and instability to occur. An example of this would be if a herniated disc developed in the neck and compressed a nerve root in the spinal canal. The herniated disc would weaken the structure of the spine by not being able to support the surrounding vertebrae, known as a vertebral segment. This would cause the spine to become unstable and, if the condition progresses, may cause a spinal fusion to be necessary to provide stability.

Many spine conditions are degenerative in nature, which means that they develop from aging and general wear and tear of the spine. Often, degenerative spine conditions develop slowly over time and cause little or no symptoms. If pain and other symptoms are experienced, you can work with your doctor to develop a conservative treatment plan.

Begin with conservative treatment

Upon diagnosis of a condition causing segmental instability in the cervical spine, symptoms can often be managed successfully using conservative nonsurgical methods such as:

  • Over-the-counter pain medication and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Prescription pain medication
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise to improve strength
  • Stretching to improve flexibility
  • Brief periods of rest
  • Posture improvement
  • Quitting smoking

Most forms of conservative treatment can be combined to increase pain relief. You should always consult your doctor before beginning or combining any treatment option for your spine condition. For patients who have undergone months of conservative treatment and have found little or no lasting relief, spine surgery can become a serious option as the next treatment step to relieve chronic pain.

Where to turn if surgery becomes an option

Spine conditions that cause more severe instability are generally treated with spinal fusion which involves removal of spinal anatomy and insertion of material to stabilize the spine. This can be achieved through two main approaches: traditional open neck fusion or minimally invasive stabilization.

During a traditional open neck fusion, the surgeon will make a large incision in the neck to access the spine. The incision cuts and tears the surrounding neck muscles and soft tissue, which usually requires overnight hospitalization to monitor blood loss and infection. Once the surgeon has reached the spine, spinal anatomy will be removed and material will be inserted to stabilize the spine.

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck surgery.^ Our minimally invasive stabilization surgery involves a small incision and a number of muscle-sparing techniques. Once the spine is accessed, our board-certified surgeons+ use direct visualization equipment to remove spinal anatomy, decompress nerves and insert stabilizing material. This approach allows for a streamlined outpatient procedure that offers numerous advantages for our patients. For more information about the types of minimally invasive surgery we offer at Laser Spine Institute, please contact our caring team.

We are here to guide you through your journey to wellness and are happy to provide a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.