An annular tear is a tear in the outer layer (annulus fibrosus) of a disc in the spine. The discs, which are located between vertebrae, act as shock absorbers for the spine. When a disc becomes weak or injured, an annular tear can occur, possibly allowing the material from the disc’s core (nucleus pulposus) to seep out of the tear and into the spinal column.
Annular tear causes
There are 5 main factors that can cause an annular tear to occur:
- Aging — As we get older, the normal aging process coupled with years of wear and tear on the spine cause the various spinal components, including discs, to degenerate. As they become weaker, discs are more likely to develop annular tears.
- Excess body weight — Each day, a person’s spine must support the weight of the body, a strenuous task even in healthy-weight individuals. Excess body weight puts additional stress on the spine, increasing the rate of spinal degeneration and the risk of developing an annular tear.
- Sports — Many sports, like golf, gymnastics, football and hockey, demand repetitive twisting and bending motions from their players. These movements place excessive pressure on the spine, causing the discs to deteriorate at a faster rate than the spines of those who do not participate in sports. This deterioration weakens the discs, making them more prone to annular tears.
- Traumatic injury — An annular tear caused by traumatic injury, such as a car accident or a fall, can occur at any age, regardless of the patient’s previous spine health.
- Genetics — Like many other spinal conditions, there appears to be a link between annular tears and a patient’s genetic makeup. While research is still being conducted to better understand that link, some individuals appear to inherently have weaker discs, making them more susceptible to annular tears.
Treatment for an annular tear
Conservative, nonsurgical treatment is often the first line of defense against the painful symptoms of an annular tear. For many patients, these treatments are effective in reducing their pain. However, for some patients, this is not the case. When several weeks or months of conservative treatment are not enough to manage a patient’s pain, his or her physician may recommend surgery.
Among the many surgical options for annular tears are the minimally invasive, outpatient procedures performed at USA Spine Care, which are alternatives to traditional open spine surgery. Contact USA Spine Care today to receive a no-cost review of your MRI* to determine if you are a candidate for our advanced procedures.