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What are the effects of an annular tear in the lumbar spine?

It is more common to develop an annular tear in the lumbar spine than at any other level of the vertebral column. That’s because the lumbar (lower back) region is under almost constant strain from supporting most of the body’s weight while also being subjected to a wide range of stress-inducing movement. An annular tear, or rupture in the tough outer layer of a disc in the spine, can occur because of traumatic injury, or gradually, as part of the body’s natural aging process.

Tears in the outer wall of a disc are not always symptomatic but when the gel-like nucleus material of a disc leaks through a tear, adjacent nerve roots or the spinal cord becomes vulnerable. Irritation of these delicate components of the body’s nervous system can produce localized pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. Learn more about the impact of an annular tear on the spine in the following article.

Nerve compression location determines symptomatic areas

Should an annular tear in the lumbar region result in the extrusion of inner disc material, there is a chance that the sciatic nerve will be affected. Irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, the longest and widest nerve in the body, produces the set of symptoms known as sciatica. Regardless of whether the sciatic nerve is affected, the area of the body that experiences symptoms will depend on which vertebral level is the site of the nerve compression.

Because nerve roots occur in pairs and are located between the vertebrae, nerve root compression is usually annotated by the identities of the nearest two vertebrae. For example, the 12th thoracic vertebra is annotated T12, the first lumbar vertebra is annotated L1 and so on. The symptoms, then, will be experienced in the location of the body affected by the particular nerve, as described below:

  • T12 to L1 — pain in the medial thigh
  • L1 to L2 — pain in the anterior upper thigh, slight quadriceps weakness
  • L2 to L3 — anterolateral thigh pain, quadriceps weakness, diminished patellar reflex
  • L3 to L4 — posterolateral thigh pain, anterior lower leg pain, quadriceps weakness, reduction of patellar reflex
  • L4 to L5 — foot pain, weakness of the foot and big toe extensor
  • L5 to S1 — pain on the outside of the foot, reduced Achilles tendon reflex

Treating an annular tear in the lumbar spine

In most cases, symptoms associated with an annular tear in the lumbar spine can be managed using pain medication, exercise, corticosteroid injections and other conservative treatment methods. Surgery might become an option if conservative treatment fails to bring relief after several weeks or months. If you are interested in learning about a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery,^ contact USA Spine Care for information about our minimally invasive procedures.

Our board-certified surgeons+ have helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain, setting us apart as the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery. Our outpatient surgery is performed using a less than 1-inch incision and muscle-sparing techniques in order to alleviate symptoms while resulting in less bleeding and a lower risk of complication compared to traditional open back surgery.^

Find out if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery today by reaching out to USA Spine Care and asking for a no-cost MRI review.*

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