An annular tear in your lumbar spine (lower back) may cause back pain with or without radiating leg pain, which is the hallmark of sciatica. The underlying condition occurs when the outer border of a spinal disc (annulus fibrosus) breaks open. While an annular tear can develop in any part of the spine, it is particularly common in the lower back. This section supports a substantial amount of body weight and therefore is especially vulnerable to the effects of ongoing wear and tear.
How can a torn disc lead to sciatica?
When a disc tears, or herniates, its annulus fibrosus is disrupted, which may allow some of the disc’s inner core (nucleus pulposus) to leak out into the spinal canal. This confined space houses the spinal cord and a series of sensitive nerve roots, including the sciatic nerve. The largest and longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve extends from the lower end of the spinal cord down the back of each leg. An annular tear in the lumbar spine can allow a disc to shift out of its normal position and irritate or compress the sciatic nerve, which can potentially cause problems.
More specifically, an annular tear in the lower back may cause sciatica in one of two ways:
- Displaced disc material may place direct pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Chemicals released by ruptured disc material may irritate or inflame the sciatic nerve.
What to do if an annular tear causes sciatica
Sciatic pain may come and go. Many episodes resolve on their own within a few weeks, only to return later. Conservative treatments such as rest, medications and physical therapy can be helpful for getting through recurrent bouts of discomfort. Typically, the pain cycle will persist until the underlying cause of the sciatic nerve compression or irritation is addressed. While surgery is generally considered a last resort, it is the only way to accomplish this.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an annular tear and sciatica is diminishing your quality of life, you may want to consider surgical treatment. Contact USA Spine Care to request a free MRI review.* Our team can help you determine if you are a candidate for a minimally invasive outpatient procedure to address the annular tear that is causing your sciatica.