Spinal instability is the term for an excess of motion taking place between the vertebrae. It can result from an injury, degeneration, previous surgery, a tumor or a congenital condition. It may also be brought on by fractured vertebrae or another form of damage to the spinal column due to a trauma or osteoporosis.

Spinal InstabilityIf a disc in the spine is degenerating, it loses some of its rigidity, which causes the disc to collapse. This resultant loss of disc height then shifts the facet joints into a position outside the parameters of their normal alignment. An increasing amount of abnormal movement may then take place between the vertebrae.


A person with spinal instability may experience neck or back pain, depending on the area of the spine that is affected. If it is causing compression of the nerves, the pain may radiate into the arms or legs. Patients may also have muscle spasms, weakness, paralysis or numbness in some cases. There may be significant—sometimes extremely sharp—back pain, especially when a sufferer is getting up from a chair to a standing position.


To determine the cause of your back pain, a doctor will perform a full physical and neurological examination. Imaging technology such as X-rays, MRIs and CT scans also can help your doctor diagnose spinal instability. Motion-oriented assessments, such as taking X-rays while a patient is leaning forward and then backward, can give your physician a basis of comparison to see whether any abnormal movements are present.

Spinal Instability Treatment

Initial treatment for spinal instability is often bed rest along with use of a brace for stabilization. If unsuccessful, the next step may be a combination of physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications.

If non-surgical options do not improve the symptoms, spinal instability is commonly treated with a spinal fusion surgery. Spinal fusion surgery connects two or more of the vertebrae in your spine. A bone graft, with bone from either another part of your body or from a bone bank, is placed between the vertebrae and may be held in place with plates, screws and rods. Eventually, the vertebrae fuse together, expanding the stability of the spine and diminishing pain.