Diagnosing and Treating Vertebral Instability

There are a lot of moving parts in your spine, but even as it twists and turns it works hard to remain stable and provide support for other areas of your body. However, as time goes on, the vertebrae in our spine can become a little more mobile, and this mobility can actually make it harder for the spine to provide stability and support.

When these vertebral sections become hypermobile, it can lead to problems for your spine and other nearby structures. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at why vertebral instability develops, and how a spine specialist can help you treat it.

Why Vertebral Instability Develops

Vertebral instability can develop for a number of different reasons, so it’s important to get a diagnosis from a spine specialist so that you can ensure treatment is targeting the underlying cause and the precise location of your hypermobility. In most instances, vertebral instability is caused by trauma to the area, either in the acute form or slowly over the years in the form of microtrauma. In other words, direct trauma to the area or repeated stress over the years can lead to slow degenerative changes that contribute to spinal instability.

As for the actual mechanism of injury inside the body, instability develops when one level of the spine (the two facet joints and spinal disc) becomes damaged to the point that it can no longer adequately support the weight from the level above it, causing it to shift out of a stable position.

Diagnosing Vertebral Instability

Because the hypermobility involves the vertebrae and in turn the spinal disc, the most common way to spot instability is with the assistance of an X-ray. Prior to the imaging test your specialist will likely ask about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. They may want to see how your spine responds to simple movements and if symptoms develop or subside based on your actions. However, the X-ray will be the most telling diagnostic test.

Treating spinal instability focuses on strengthening the weakened area so that it can better provide support and not shift due to stress. For more mild cases, this may be accomplished through non-operative techniques like physical therapy and targeted exercise routines. Painkillers and corticosteroid injections can also help to provide relief while you progress through rehabilitation.

For more serious cases, surgery may be ordered. Although the specifics can vary, treating spinal instability through surgery often involves a fusion procedure. Fusing two or more vertebrae together inherently limits their mobility. This can help to take care of pain, but you’ll also likely still need physical therapy or postural training so that the spinal segments nearest the fusion do not become overloaded. Your doctor can walk you through the specifics should it come to this.

So if you are dealing with localized spine pain and you fit the bill for someone who could be experiencing vertebral instability, consider setting up an appointment with a spine specialist in your area. Treatment is often much simpler than you imagined, and it can help get you back to a pain free way of living. For more information, contact Dr. Chang’s office today.

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