Spinal instability

Spinal instability is where there is more movement than normal between the vertebrae. This is often due to the degenerative effect of osteoarthritis.


As we get older, the discs between the vertebrae wear, allowing them to move abnormally. Bone spurs (bony lumps) can also form that, together with damaged vertebrae, can put pressure on nearby nerves.


You may have sudden sharp back pain and/or leg pain, especially when you are stretching, getting up out of a chair or lifting; you may also have sciatica, and a feeling that the joints are moving out of place and your back may ‘lock’. Pain can be worse after you have been sitting or standing for a long time and you may also have weakness in your legs or feet.


A discussion of your symptoms, along with a physical examination, is usually backed up by X-rays, MRI and/or CAT scans to confirm the diagnosis.


Non-operative treatment: if your symptoms are mild, you may be able to build up muscles around the spine by following a targeted rehabilitation programme of exercises, along with taking anti-inflammatory medicine if advised by your doctor. This may be enough to relieve your symptoms.

Surgery: if the instability has caused on-going pain for a long time, despite following an exercise programme and taking anti-inflammatory medicine, or is due to a previous injury, you may need to have spinal fusion surgery to relieve your symptoms.

Important: This information is only a guideline to help you understand your treatment and what to expect. Everyone is different and your rehabilitation may be quicker or slower than other people’s. Please contact us for advice if you’re worried about any aspect of your health or recovery.



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