Cervical scoliosis

Ross Hauser, MD Caring Medical Florida

Cervical scoliosis

We see many adult and adolescent patients with cervical spine instability. Among the many problems and challenges that these people have is cervical spine instability causing developing or worsening cervical scoliosis.

What causes the curvature of the spine in scoliosis? Many patients are no longer looking for a cause of their scoliosis, they are looking for a solution. 

Many patients are no longer looking for a cause of their scoliosis, they are looking for a solution. Many patients, in fact, do relate to us that their problem of cervical scoliosis treatments up until this point was a search for what caused it and for finding and applying a diagnosis to that cause. Some of these people have become familiar with the term “idiopathic scoliosis,” meaning scoliosis with an unknown cause that started out of nowhere. In this article, we will present one possible answer that is often overlooked or in fact, not even looked for. Cervical ligament weakness and laxity. A somewhat simple answer to the complexity of cervical scoliosis.

While this is a general article about cervical scoliosis and how it impacts adolescents and adults, we will discuss non-surgical options when surgery is presented to the patient as the “only” option. For some people, surgery will be the only option, but that is for some people, not all.

Cervical Scoliosis is more than the curvature of the cervical spine and angles

Many of the patients we see talk about Cobb angles and other degrees of curvature to their cervical spine, first and foremost. For some, this is the way they were taught to speak about their scoliosis by their doctors. While the problems of curvature are at the root cause of these people’s problems, one thing that is not discussed initially is what is scoliosis doing to them or you?

Often, after we hear about the amount of curvature, a patient will finally tell us about the symptoms they are having:

“I have a lot of headaches, problems with memory, hearing issues and sometimes it is difficult for me to speak. I have also developed TMJ and wear a night splint. Nothing has really helped me. Eventually or sooner I will get surgery to correct the scoliosis. It has risks but it is hard to live with this.”

“My neck is tight and is spasm all the time. It gets difficult to turn my head one way or the other. I was sent to physical therapy and given a series of exercises to perform. Really not helping, I have various massage devices, rubber balls, tennis balls, that help a little, I do some yoga. Sometimes I think I am wasting my time and I should ask for surgery.”

“I am on a waiting list for surgery. I have a pinched nerve in my neck that is causing me significant pain in my left arm and into my left hand and fingers. If I could get the surgery today I would, is there anything else I can do?”

This is just a small portion of what we hear from patients about their day-to-day experiences. Some of these patients are even surprised we asked about their symptoms because they are so used to talking angles and degrees of curvature.

Adult Patients With Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis – Outcome of Surgery

We do see many patients who have had cervical surgery for their cervical spine deformities whose outcomes had less than the desired results. We also see many patients considering adult cervical deformity surgery.

Surgery is a treatment that should be given great and careful consideration. Many people do very well with surgery. Some do not. Those who do well should be monitored because they can develop degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine.

In June 2020, surgeons from around the United States and from some of our nation’s leading Neurosurgery centers including the University of Virginia Health System, Duke University, the Hospital for Special Surgery, the University of California Davis, and New York University (NYU) Hospital for Joint Diseases among many others published this report in the medical journal Spine. (1) Here are the summary highlights.

These are some of the patients we see in our office. The patient had a successful surgery initially and then cervical spine degenerative disease began to progress. What would cause this? In some people, it is damaged and loose cervical spine ligaments. I will explain below.

There are many causes for the development of scoliosis, perhaps one of the simplest, overlooked, and easier to treat problems is a problem of weak, damaged, overstretched cervical spine ligaments.

For many patients we see, they report to us that they have tried many methods of neck curvature correction. Many went through months and months of physical therapy, not trying to reverse the problem, but simply try to stop their cervical scoliosis from getting worse. Equally, many have been under the care of chiropractors for many years seeking the same outcome of lessening progression.

There are many causes for the development of scoliosis, perhaps one of the simplest, overlooked, and easier to treat problems is a problem of weak, damaged, overstretched cervical spine ligaments that are not holding the vertebrae in their natural position.

In common language, scoliosis means that the spine is crooked. The spine is held together by the same thing that holds all the bones together, ligaments.

In common language, scoliosis means that the spine is crooked. The spine is held together by the same thing that holds all the bones together, ligaments. The patient often experiences pain at the site where the spine curves. At the apex of this curve, the ligaments are being stretched with scoliosis, and localized ligament weakness is one of the etiological bases for it. Traditional treatments for scoliosis, especially during adolescence, include observation, bracing, and surgery. Observation of a crooked spine does not sound very helpful, bracing has been shown to decrease the progression of mild scoliosis, and surgery involves placing rods into the spine. Surgery is generally utilized for severe scoliosis when bracing has failed to stop the progression.

Chronic atlantoaxial instability leading to scoliosis

The medical literature is filled with “curious,” or “unusual cases,” when it comes to cervical scoliosis. We present some of these case histories to demonstrate what we see here in our office is seen in other offices around the world. We simply do not find these cases to be curious because we see so many.

Here is an example of a case published in the journal World Neurosurgery. (2) This is from August 2020.  It is the story of an 11-year-old girl.

Dynamic imaging revealed atlantoaxial instability

In our article Atlantoaxial instability treatment and repair without surgery, I describe Atlantoaxial instability as the abnormal, excessive movement of the joint between the atlas (C1) and axis (C2). This junction is a unique junction in the cervical spine as the C1 and C2 are not shaped like cervical vertebrae. They are more flattened so as to serve as a platform to hold the head up. The bundle of ligaments that support this joint is strong bands that provide strength and stability while allowing the flexibility of head movement and allow unimpeded access (prevention of herniation or “pinch”) of blood vessels that travel through them to the brain.

While atlantoaxial instability can be caused by many factors. Trauma injury, congenital defects (defects from birth), and arthritis. The focus of this article concentrated on the impact of cervical spine ligament injury and how addressing this injury could help stabilize the cervical spine and address the challenges of cervical spine deformity such as scoliosis.

In this video Ross Hauser, MD explains how cervical scoliosis can develop from cervical spine and neck instability

Here is a summary transcript:

In this illustration, we are using the springs as a visual image to help understand the natural movement of a spinal ligament.

Damage or weakness to these ligaments will cause the vertebrae to move out of place and could result in problems of the curvature of the spine including scoliosis.

In this illustration we are using the springs as a visual image to help understand the natural movement of a spinal ligament. In flexion, bending your head forward with your chin moving towards your chest we see that the spring is stretched to accommodate that movement. In extension, this would be with your chin pointed upwards in the air, we see that the spring is compressed. in lateral flexion, you are moving your head with your ear moving towards your shoulder. You get both ligament motions. Damage or weakness to these ligaments will cause the vertebrae to move out of place and could result in problems of the curvature of the spine including scoliosis.

In this illustration, we are using the springs as a visual image to help understand the natural movement of a spinal ligament. In flexion, bending your head forward with your chin moving towards your chest we see that the spring is stretched to accommodate that movement. In extension, this would be with your chin pointed upwards in the air, we see that the spring is compressed. in lateral flexion, you are moving your head with your ear moving towards your shoulder. You get both ligament motions. Damage or weakness to these ligaments will cause the vertebrae to move out of place and could result in problems of the curvature of the spine including scoliosis.

In this image we we are examining the posterior ligament length with different head and neck positions. When a person looks up, the cervical vertebrae move closer together as the posterior cervical ligaments and muscles tighten. When the person faces down, the muscles relax and the vertebrae spread apart as the posterior cervical ligaments stretch and lengthen.

In this image, we are examining the posterior ligament length with different head and neck positions. When a person looks up, the cervical vertebrae move closer together as the posterior cervical ligaments and muscles tighten. When the person faces down, the muscles relax and the vertebrae spread apart as the posterior cervical ligaments stretch and lengthen.

Malrotation of C2

In the image below we can see the start of cervical spine problems that could lead to many problems including the degenerative cascade leading to scoliosis.

Prolotherapy injections for Atlantoaxial instability in developing scoliosis

In 2015, Caring Medical published findings in the European Journal of Preventive Medicine (3) investigating the role of Prolotherapy in the reduction of pain and symptoms associated with increased cervical intervertebral motion, structural deformity, and irritation of nerve roots. We concluded that statistically significant reductions in pain and functionality, indicating the safety and viability of Prolotherapy for cervical spine instability.

A continuation of this discussion can be found in these articles on our website:

If this article has helped you understand the problems of cervical spine instability and cervical scoliosis and you would like to explore Prolotherapy as a possible remedy, ask for help and information from our specialists


1 Smith JS, Buell TJ, Shaffrey CI, Kim HJ, Klineberg E, Protopsaltis T, Passias P, Mundis GM, Eastlack R, Deviren V, Kelly MP. Prospective multicenter assessment of complication rates associated with adult cervical deformity surgery in 133 patients with minimum 1-year follow-up. Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. 2020 Jun 19;1(aop):1-3. [Google Scholar]
2 Goel A, Biswas C, Shah A, Darji H, Bhambere S, Hawaldar A. Atlantoaxial instability as a cause of Craniovertebral and cervical spinal alterations and dorsal kyphoscoliosis-a case report. World Neurosurgery. 2020 Aug 8. [Google Scholar]

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