Spinal instability becomes more likely as people approach middle age and the parts of the spine begin to wear out. For example, spinal discs begin to lose water content, elasticity and height, while the joints linking the vertebrae together can become inflamed after protective cartilage becomes brittle and worn. This age-related degeneration can result in conditions like spinal arthritis and degenerative disc disease, which can severely affect your comfort and mobility.
Learning more about the relationship of spinal instability to degenerative spine conditions, and how symptoms can result, is a great first step toward getting the help you deserve. The following information can help you to work more closely with your doctor to develop a care plan with the best chance of returning you to an active lifestyle.
How spinal instability causes symptoms
Spinal degeneration and the resulting instability is extremely common, and not always painful. Someone can have a bulging disc or some joint stiffness for years and experience little to no discomfort. As these conditions progress, minor symptoms can include:
- A popping noise known as crepitus when the head is turned or the spine is extended or twisted
- A feeling of warmth in the spinal joints
- Localized pain
- Joint stiffness
If symptoms become more severe and debilitating, it is usually the result of nerve compression. Displaced spinal anatomy — such as a bone spur, swollen joint or bulging disc — can narrow the spinal column and put pressure on nerves. This can interfere with the normal functioning of the nerve, causing symptoms to travel into the upper or lower extremities. These symptoms include:
- Burning, shooting pain along the length of the nerve
- “Pins-and-needles” sensations
- Numbness and muscle weakness
Location of symptoms is related to the spinal region where the nerve compression occurs. The cervical (upper) spine affects the neck, shoulders, arms and hands, while the lumbar (lower) spine causes symptoms in the lower body, including the hips, buttocks, legs and feet.
Treating instability of the spine
If you are diagnosed with a condition caused by spinal instability, symptoms can often be managed using a combination of conservative treatment methods such as pain medication, rest, massage therapy and exercise. Surgery is considered as a serious option if weeks or months of treatment do not bring the relief necessary for an acceptable quality of life.
For those considering surgery, USA Spine Care offers an alternative to traditional open spine procedures, and the muscle disruption, risk of infection and long recovery time that come with them. We perform minimally invasive spine surgery that uses muscle-sparing techniques, resulting in less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time for our patients.
To learn more and to receive an MRI review at no-cost* to determine if you may be a candidate, contact USA Spine Care today.