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Cervical (neck) instability involves ligament laxity of the cervical vertebrae. Instability in this region can have many causes, including trauma, such as from a fall or sports injury. Whiplash injury can also cause cervical instability because of the trauma to the ligaments, neck muscles, nerve roots, and discs while the head whips forward and back.
Symptoms of cervical instability can present in a variety of ways. The most common symptoms include neck pain, stiffness, and tightness, frequently extending out toward the shoulders and down the back. Headaches and a feeling of head heaviness frequently indicate cervical instability. As well, someone may complain of a grinding sensation or clicking sound when moving his or her head. These complaints often worsen the longer a person has to hold his or her head up, such as for long hours at a computer or driving, and also sports like cycling.
Sometimes misleading clusters of symptoms appear in patients with cervical instability. These can include dizziness, blurry vision, sinus congestion, watery eyes, facial pain, numbness in the face or mouth, headaches and feeling of extreme pressure behind the eyes. While individually, these symptoms may not traditionally be linked to vertebral instability, a little known syndrome called Barre-Lieou Syndrome groups them together, and may take a patient years to get properly diagnosed. When cervical instability allows the vertebrae to pinch the sympathetic nerves in the neck, such as in Barre-Lieou, these autonomic nerves can unleash any or all of these associated symptoms, ranging from mild to severe.
Steroid injections and surgical approach for cervical instability
Cortisone injections are known for delivering a swift dose of pain relief for neck pain. However, these injections carry very aggressive anti-inflammatory properties which ultimately weaken the ligaments. In Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, when ligaments are injured it triggers what is known as the degenerative cascade. This cascade leads to joint instability in which the body will continue to try and stabilize the joint somehow. This is frequently seen in the overgrowth of bone, or arthritis, on X-ray. Generally speaking, the joint is attempting to stabilize by overgrowing bone. If traditional medicine intervenes, it is typically with a cervical fusion, a recommendation which itself proves that what the body needs is stability in that area. One of the many problems with cervical fusion though is it leads to further arthritis above and below the fusion, not to mention numerous other serious surgical risks.
Prolotherapy injections for cervical instability
Prolotherapy physicians look to correct the underlying instability issue with regenerative injection therapy. This treatment acts like spot welding for the ligaments, triggering the body to tighten the lax ligaments, providing proper movement between the vertebrae, versus excessive motion in some vertebrae with almost no motion in others. Because ligaments have such a poor blood supply, they are often incapable of healing on their own. Prolotherapy triggers an localized, temporary inflammation to the area which brings renewed blood supply and growth factors to the weakened areas. This inflammatory (healing) cascade, a reverse of the degenerative cascade, allows new, stronger collagen tissue to form. The renewed ability for the cervical ligaments to repair brings stability to the cervical spine, ultimately resulting in pain relief. Thus, Prolotherapy for neck pain and cervical instability offers a permanent, non-surgical alternative to fusion, cortisone injections, and pain medication.