Spinal Instability Specialist

Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center -  - Neurosurgery

Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center

Neurosurgery & Pain Medicine located in Sandy Springs, Atlanta, GA & College Park, GA

Spinal instability can affect any part of your spine, leading to pain and loss of mobility that you can’t ignore. Seeking treatment is important, not just to get relief from your pain, but also because early treatment prevents the underlying condition from getting progressively worse. The board-certified team at Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, in Sandy Springs, College Park, and Bethlehem, Georgia, has extensive experience diagnosing and treating the many possible causes of spinal instability. To schedule an appointment, call one of the offices, or book an appointment online.

Spinal Instability Q & A

What causes spinal instability?

Your vertebrae and discs work together to protect the spinal nerves, allow movement, and provide structural support and balance. Spinal instability occurs when a problem with these structures interferes with normal spinal functioning.

You may develop spinal instability due to problems such as:

  • Herniated discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal fractures
  • Compression fractures
  • Arthritis
  • Scoliosis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spinal tumors
  • Spondylolisthesis (slipped vertebrae)

When spinal instability goes untreated, it can get progressively worse.

What are craniocervical and atlantoaxial instability?

The craniocervical junction includes two sets of joints, the atlanto-occipital joint between your skull and the first cervical vertebra and the atlantoaxial joint between your first and second vertebrae.

These joints are different from the other spinal joints because they have highly specialized roles. The atlanto-occipital joint allows your head to move up and down, while the atlantoaxial joint lets your head rotate.

The ligaments supporting these joints are quite strong, but if they become weak or damaged, you develop instability. 

You can develop craniocervical instability due to conditions such as:

  • Type I Chiari malformation
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Tethered cord syndrome
  • Atlantoaxial instability
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Down syndrome

You may also develop craniocervical instability following a traumatic injury to your neck or head.

What symptoms develop due to spinal instability?

You may experience a range of symptoms that can affect your head, arms, hands, legs, and feet, depending on which part of your spine is unstable. 

The symptoms may include:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck or back stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Poor coordination
  • Gait problems
  • Muscle spasms
  • Balance problems
  • Pain, tingling, and numbness in your arms
  • Weak muscles in your arms or legs
  • Poor hand movement and strength


Craniocervical instability may give you the sensation that your head is bobbing or moving uncontrollably.

How is spinal instability treated?

The team at Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center may recommend one of many possible treatments based on the underlying cause of your spinal instability and the severity of your symptoms.

The first line of treatment typically includes conservative therapies, such as rest, activity modification, bracing to support your spine, and physical therapy or exercises to improve spinal strength.

Severe spinal instability, however, may require a minimally invasive procedure or surgery to repair the underlying problem and restore stability.

For example, treatments to repair the underlying problems include a discectomy or microdiscectomy to repair a damaged disc, or a spinal decompression procedure to treat pinched nerves. To stabilize your spine, you may need a spinal fusion or an artificial disc replacement.

If you develop ongoing or worsening neck or back pain, or suddenly find that your movement is limited, call Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, or book an appointment online.