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When does an annular tear occur?

An annular tear occurs when the tough exterior of a spinal disc (the annulus fibrosus) rips or tears. Discs in the spine serve as cushions between the vertebrae, providing support to the bone structure of the neck and back while also acting as shock absorbers. If too much stress is exerted on a disc, either from the continual performance of everyday activities such as sitting and standing or as a result of sudden trauma, an annular tear can occur. Read on to learn about the types of annular tears, the diagnosis process and the treatments available.

Types of annular tears

The disc wall is constructed in several layers, each of which can become torn. The nature of the tear and the layers it affects will be the basis for how the tear is categorized:

  • Radial tears. Typically caused by the natural aging process, radial tears begin at the center of the disc and extend all the way through the outer layer of the disc wall. These tears can cause a disc to herniate, which occurs when the gel-like center of a disc extrudes through the tear to the outside of the disc.
  • Peripheral tears. These tears occur in the outer fibers of the tough outer layer of the disc and are usually brought on by traumatic injury or contact with a bone spur. Peripheral tears can lead to the degeneration or breakdown of a disc in the spine.
  • Concentric tears. When a tear occurs between the outer layers circumferentially, it is called a concentric tear, which is usually caused by injury.

Diagnosing an annular tear

Patients usually seek the guidance of a primary care doctor or back specialist when experiencing pain that could be associated with an annular tear. Following a physical assessment, physicians typically perform one or more diagnostic tests. This condition is usually best seen on a CT discography, which utilizes dye to identify the annular tear. However, CT discography can be painful and not well tolerated. An MRI can be used to visualize disc architecture painlessly; however, in some cases, a tear might not be visible.

Treatments for an annular tear

Patients who suspect they could have this condition or any other degenerative neck or back condition should seek the care of a doctor or specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment. Several conservative treatment options are available to allow a patient to regain their quality of life, including anti-inflammatories, chiropractic care, physical therapy and steroid injections. If these measures fail to provide you with adequate relief after several weeks or months, contact USA Spine Care.

USA Spine Care is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery and has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck or back pain. Our board-certified surgeons+ use 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.^

To find out if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive procedures, reach out to USA Spine Care today and ask for a review of your MRI or CT scan at no-cost.* We are here to help guide you through your journey to wellness.

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