Treatments for Neck Pain and Cervical Instability: A review of upper cervical instability and symptom treatment with Ross Hauser, MD

Ross Hauser, MD

Treatment of neck instability – cervical spine instability

In our practice, we continue to see a large number of patients with a myriad of symptoms related to cervical neck instability including severe pain, problems of balance, headaches, and loss of mobility. These people are often confused, many times frightened by recommendations to complicated cervical neck surgeries they don’t understand.

Many of these people have been told that their problem is a problem of degenerative cervical disc disease. After years of prolonged pain and conservative care options such as chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, pain medications, cortisone injections, and cervical epidurals that eventually fail, the only recourse, these people are told, is neck surgery.

It is therefore easy to see how cervical instability can change a person’s quality of life. With one bump on the head or a wrong twist of the neck, a whirlwind of symptoms start. Many MRIs, CT scans and x-rays later, each clinician gives another explanation for the person’s symptoms and they are thrust into a myriad of medications, treatments and surgeries without relief. Eventually the patient goes to pain management and is placed on long-term narcotics. Often the families and even spouses do not understand because the person “looks normal.” As physician after physician fails to relieve the suffering, doubt creeps in as to whether or not the person has a “real” illness. Relationships start to fail.

Neck surgery when all else has failed. But did “all else” include regenerative medicine injections?

Surgical recommendations are described in a way that seemingly makes sense as the only solution to degenerative disc disease.

But if these surgical options make so much sense, why were they not offered in the first place? The answer to that question is explained in the following articles:

Surgical treatments for Cervical Instability – Disc, disc, disc may be wrong, wrong, wrong

In medicine, there are universally accepted equations. When pain cannot be controlled using conservative treatments including physical therapy, chiropractic, and pain medications, there has to be a surgical recommendation. 

In neck and spine surgery, doctors focus on degenerative disc disease and its treatment,   anterior cervical discectomy and fusion and cervical decompression surgery to remove whole or part of the cervical vertebrae to allow space on compressed nerves and to fix the instability by fusing vertebral segments together. In the case of C1-C2 instability, these two vertebrae are fused posteriorly (behind) to limit their amount of movement.  The goal is to limit pressure on the nerves.

However, it may limit motion to such an extent that patients become completely unable to move that portion of their neck. In addition, fusion operations can accelerate the degeneration of adjacent vertebrae as the motion in the neck is distributed more on these tissues.

After two years, the same result between physical therapy and surgery was seen – no difference in the outcome.

The rush to surgery is based on the immediate goals of the patients, that is the alleviation of pain. Spinal cervical fusion and decompression seem to offer a solution – short term. This is supported in the medical literature. In one study in the medical journal Spine,(1 patients with cervical radiculopathy, treated with surgery and physiotherapy resulted in a more rapid patient improvement during the first year after surgery, with significantly greater improvement in neck pain and global assessment scores compared to physiotherapy alone.

However, the differences between the groups decreased after two years. In this paper where surgery was touted as being so successful – the researchers concluded: “Structured physiotherapy should be tried before surgery is chosen.” After two years, the same result between physical therapy and surgery was seen – no difference in the outcome.

Neck surgery when all else has failed. But did “all else” include a discussion with the patient that this may not be a disc problem at all but that their cervical ligaments need to be repaired?


cervical degenerative ligament diseaseCREEP – cervical degenerative ligament disease – why neck surgery fails

Some of the most debilitating conditions attributed to problems in the neck are those due to cervical instability caused ligament laxity. What does this mean? It means that surgery may not address the problems you are experiencing in your neck.

When spinal ligaments are exposed to continued compression or stress, they “Creep.” Creep is a medical condition that results from the deformity or elongation of the ligaments that hold the cervical spinal vertebrae in place. This is cervical neck instability.

The concept of ligament laxity or cervical neck instability being caused by ligament damage is not so simple for doctors to understand. This may be why patients with neck problems walk around for years without hope or optimism that their problems can be solved.

An amazing study came out of the University of Waterloo in Canada and was published in the November 2017 edition of the Spine Journal.(1) Briefly here was the problem and the goal of the study:

Loose ligaments are not normal

Patients suffer from big problems caused by little damage to the ligaments

Patients suffer because Ligament laxity is a mystery

Patients suffer because cervical ligament laxity is a mystery


Identifying what is happening in the cervical spine, why ligaments are not even thought of

Physical therapists in Belgium wrote in the medical journal Manual Therapy, “Classifying nonspecific neck pain patients into subgroups based on clinical characteristics might lead to more comprehensive diagnoses and can guide effective management.” The subgroups were:

While these symptom classifications should be obvious signs of a patient in distress, the cause of the problems are not so obvious.

Cervical instability can be difficult to diagnose for the average practitioner. This is largely due to the low reliability and validity of radiographic studies including functional (motion) radiographs and many clinical examination measures that are still under debate and are rather questionable.

Unfortunately, there is often no correlation between the hypermobility or subluxation of the joint (excessive movement of the vertebrae), clinical signs or symptoms, or neurological signs or symptoms. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all which further broadens the already very wide spectrum of possible diagnoses for cervical instability.

In one study from the Department of Neuroradiology at the University of Munich, “healthy” volunteers who experienced no neck pain or headaches had  MRI’s that showed so many things wrong that the investigators had to conclude that the MRI had “limited diagnostic value in patients with whiplash-associated disorders.” Why? because MRI cannot show the problems of the cervical ligaments. (3)

Treating cervical ligament instability and its symptoms

Symptoms and conditions impacting the Vagus Nerve

Please see Strenuous Dynamic Vagus Nerve Testing at Caring Medical Florida. Caring Medical Florida initiated a strenuous dynamic vagus nerve testing protocol to help patients assess the current status of their vagus tone and optimize recovery of it.

In this video and explanatory notes, Ross Hauser, MD explains the various unresolved symptoms that you may be suffering from that can be traced to upper cervical spine instability. This is a good overview of our treatment program. Use this contact form with questions.


Treatment of Upper Cervical Instability with Prolotherapy

Ross Hauser, MD at Caring Medical Florida.  Notes of this video are below with time marks.

This is the chart in the video. It shows these many and various disorders; from neck and facial pain, headaches, dizziness, drop attacks, swallowing and digestive problems, hearing problems, vision problems, nerve compression and pain, etc. These disorders will be discussed below.

Our chart shows these many and various disorders; from neck and facial pain, headaches, dizziness, dop attacks, swallowing and digestive problems, hearing problems, vision problems, nerve compression and pain, etc.

Our chart shows these many and various disorders; from neck and facial pain, headaches, dizziness, drop attacks, swallowing and digestive problems, hearing problems, vision problems, nerve compression and pain, etc.

(1:19 of the video) Upper cervical instability can also affect the cervical sympathetic ganglion which sits at C2. The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system. It helps make adaptations to your current situation. For instance, if you are witness to a crime or an accident or something bad,  your body shifts into “fight-or-flight mode.” Your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate dramatically increase. The blood vessels shift blood away from the intestines into the muscles, enabling you to run or fight depending on the situation. This also happens automatically.

Tension on the spinal cord

(1:26 of video)

When a person has cervical instability, specifically upper cervical instability, there is a greater tension on the spinal cord. The spinal cord can pull on the brain stem. This pull or traction can cause all kinds of problems within the relay centers that are in the brainstem.

The vertebral artery runs in the transverse foramen of the cervical vertebrae. If the cervical vertebrae are moving too much you can get compression the artery that supplies about 1/3 of the brain with its blood.

The vertebral artery runs in the transverse foramen of the cervical vertebrae. If the cervical vertebrae are moving too much you can get compression the artery that supplies about 1/3 of the brain with its blood.

Loss of blood flow to the brain

(At 2:22 of the video)

Intracranial pressure (At 3:05 of the video)

Vision problems

You can’t clear your head (3:50 of the video)

When cerebral spinal fluid flow is disrupted, it’s almost it’s as if the brain becomes a toxic toilet. You need normal cerebral spinal fluid flow to be normal to flush all the toxins and all the waste products from all the activity of the brain out. If these is impeded flow you will suffer the problems of not being able to focus or remember. You feel like a brain fog has surrounded you. This can be caused by upper cervical instability.

When I treat people with upper cervical instability, one of the main things these patients report is that they just feel so much better. Their thinking is clearer, their energy goes up.

Trigeminal nerve and trigeminal neuralgia (4:45 of the video)

It is well known in neurology, that trigeminal neuralgia and even migraine headaches are because of irritation of the trigeminal nerve. It turns out that the cervical trigeminal nucleus in the spinal cord  goes all the way down to C3 so upper cervical instability can affect this nucleus which can give you facial pain can give you trigeminal neuralgia can give you Cervical dystonia and spasmodic torticollis all kinds of cranial nerve symptoms.

If you have had any of these disorders, any of these symptoms, dizziness, vertigo, migraine headaches, balance problems, brain fog, autoimmune disease, allergy symptoms, you should consider upper cervical instability as the cause of your conditions. If so this can be easily documented by a digital motion x-ray (DMX) and treatment with Prolotherapy.

Treating and repairing cervical instability with Prolotherapy

The cervical ligaments are strong bands of tissues that attach one cervical vertebra to another. In this role, the cervical ligaments become the primary stabilizers of the neck. When they are damaged or weakened or simply loose they also became the primary DE-stabilizers of the neck and a primary cause of upper cervical instability. Your head begins to move in a destructive, degenerative manner on top of your neck. When this occurs you can develop the many symptoms discussed above.

Actual Prolotherapy treatment

Caring Medical has published dozens of papers on Prolotherapy injections as a treatment in difficult to treat musculoskeletal disorders. We are going to refer our 2014 study where we published a comprehensive review of the problems related to weakened damaged cervical neck ligaments.

Prolotherapy is referred to as a regenerative injection technique (RIT) because it is based on the premise that the regenerative/reparative healing process can rebuild and repair damaged soft tissue structures. It is a simple injection treatment that addresses very complex issues.

This video jumps to 1:05 where the actual treatment begins.

This patient is having C1-C2 areas treated. Ross Hauser, MD, is giving the injections.

In 2015 our research team published our finding in our paper “The biology of prolotherapy and its application in clinical cervical spine instability and chronic neck pain: a retrospective study.” This peer-review research was published in the European Journal of Preventive Medicine.(1)

Here we wrote:In an effort to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of clinical cervical spine instability and chronic neck pain, we investigated the role of proliferative injection Prolotherapy in the reduction of pain and recovery of constitutional and neurological symptoms associated with increased intervertebral motion, structural deformity and irritation of nerve roots. . . 95 percent of patients reported that Prolotherapy met their expectations in regards to pain relief and functionality.”

Treating cervical ligaments – published research from Caring Medical

In 2014 headed by Danielle R. Steilen-Matias, PA-C, our Caring Medical team published these findings in The Open Orthopaedics Journal.(4)

The capsular ligaments (the ligaments of the joint capsule) are the main stabilizing structures of the facet joints in the cervical spine and have been implicated as a major source of chronic neck pain. Such pain often reflects a state of instability in the cervical spine and is a symptom common to a number of conditions such as disc herniation, cervical spondylosis, whiplash injury, and whiplash-associated disorder, post-concussion syndrome, vertebrobasilar insufficiency, and Barré-Liéou syndrome.

When the capsular ligaments are injured, they become elongated and exhibit laxity, which causes excessive movement of the cervical vertebrae.

Therefore, we propose that in many cases of chronic neck pain, the cause may be underlying joint instability due to capsular ligament laxity. Furthermore, we contend that the use of comprehensive Prolotherapy appears to be an effective treatment for chronic neck pain and cervical instability, especially when due to ligament laxity. The technique is safe and relatively non-invasive as well as efficacious in relieving chronic neck pain and its associated symptoms.

Back to our 2014 research headed by Danielle R. Steilen-Matias, PA-C, published in The Open Orthopaedics Journal. Here we outline that the problems of the cervical neck are not always problems of degenerative disc disease but problems of degenerative ligament disease. This explains why traditional treatments focused on the discs will not be successful in the long-term.

The use of conventional modalities for chronic neck pain remains debatable, primarily because most treatments have had limited success. We conducted a review of the literature published up to December 2013 on the diagnostic and treatment modalities of disorders related to chronic neck pain and concluded that, despite providing temporary relief of symptoms, these treatments do not address the specific problems of healing and are not likely to offer long-term cures.

The objectives of this study are to provide an overview of chronic neck pain as it relates to cervical instability, to describe the anatomical features of the cervical spine and the impact of capsular ligament laxity, to discuss the disorders causing chronic neck pain and their current treatments, and lastly, to present Prolotherapy as a viable treatment option that heals injured ligaments, restores stability to the spine, and resolves chronic neck pain.

There are a number of treatment modalities for the management of chronic neck pain and cervical instability, including injection therapy, nerve blocks, mobilization, manipulation, alternative medicine, behavioral therapy, fusion, and pharmacologic agents such as NSAIDs and opiates. However, these treatments do not address stabilizing the cervical spine or healing ligament injuries, and thus, do not offer long-term curative options. In fact, cortisone injections are known to inhibit, rather than promote healing.

Research on 21 patients with cervical instability and chronic neck pain

In our research published in the European Journal of Preventive Medicine we presented the following findings:

We concluded that statistically significant reductions in pain and functionality, indicating the safety and viability of Prolotherapy for cervical spine instability.(5)

Please see related articles:

Caring Cervical Realignment Therapy (CCRT)

Caring Cervical Realignment Therapy (CCRT) was developed by Ross Hauser, M.D. after decades of treating patients with neck disorders, including cervical instability and degenerative disc disease.

Through extensive research and patient data analysis, it became clear that in order for patients to obtain long-term cures (approximately 90% relief of symptoms) the re-establishment of some lordosis, (the natural cervical spinal curve) in their cervical spine is necessary. Once spinal stabilization was achieved with Prolotherapy and the normalization of cervical forces by restoring some lordosis, lasting relief of symptoms was highly probable.

In this video Ross Hauser, MD explains Caring Cervical Realignment Therapy

The Horrific Progression of Neck Degeneration with Unresolved Cervical Instability

Caring Medical

If you would like to know if you are a good candidate for testing and treatment in our neck center in Fort Myers, Florida, you can complete an online patient case intake form and our team will get in touch with you to discuss your case in more detail.

Summary and contact us. Can we help you? How do I know if I’m a good candidate?

We hope you found this article informative and it helped answer many of the questions you may have surrounding cervical spine instability. Just like you, we want to make sure you are a good fit for our clinic prior to accepting your case. While our mission is to help as many people with chronic pain as we can, sadly, we cannot accept all cases. We have a multi-step process so our team can really get to know you and your case to ensure that it sounds like you are a good fit for the unique testing and treatments that we offer here.

Get help and information from our Caring Medical Staff

References

1. Engquist M, Löfgren H, Oberg B. Surgery Versus Non-Surgical Treatment for Cervical Radiculopathy: A prospective, randomized study comparing surgery plus physiotherapy with physiotherapy alone with a two year follow-up. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2013 Jun 17.  [Google Scholar]
2. Dewitte V, Peersman W, Danneels L, Bouche K, Roets A, Cagnie B. Subjective and clinical assessment criteria suggestive for five clinical patterns discernible in nonspecific neck pain patients. A Delphi-survey of clinical experts. Man Ther. 2016 Jul 21;26:87-96. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2016.07.005. [Google Scholar]
3. Lummel N, Bitterling H, Kloetzer A, Zeif C, Brückmann H, Linn J. Value of “functional” magnetic resonance imaging in the diagnosis of ligamentous affection at the craniovertebral junction. Eur J Radiol. 2012 Nov;81(11):3435-40. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2012.04.036. Epub 2012 Jul 2 [Google Scholar]
4 Steilen D, Hauser R, Woldin B, Sawyer S. Chronic neck pain: making the connection between capsular ligament laxity and cervical instability. The open orthopaedics journal. 2014;8:326.  [Google Scholar]
5 Hauser R, Steilen D, Gordin K The Biology of Prolotherapy and Its Application in Clinical Cervical Spine Instability and Chronic Neck Pain: A Retrospective Study. European Journal of Preventive Medicine. Vol. 3, No. 4, 2015, pp. 85-102. doi: 10.11648/j.ejpm.20150304.112396 [Google Scholar]

 

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