The discs of the spine are extremely resilient structures. They have to be, considering they serve as shock absorbers for the vertebrae, absorbing a lifetime of impacts from walking, running, jumping and climbing steps. Eventually, however, this constant stress begins to take its toll. Discs can degenerate in a number of ways, and most people over the age of 50 have some form of disc damage. An annular tear is a breech in the outer wall of a disc. These tears usually develop slowly over time and generally do not produce symptoms at first. And, although they can form in any disc, they are most common in the lower or lumbar region of the spine.
An annular tear is the first stage in what may eventually become a herniation or rupture. This occurs when a tear increases to the point where it creates an opening for material from inside the disc to seep out. If this thick fluid — called mucoprotein gel — puts pressure on a nearby nerve root, it can lead to a number of different symptoms, including pain at the injury site, as well as numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and burning sensations along the length of the affected nerve.
If you are experiencing severe pain from an annular tear, then the first thing to do is see your primary care physician, who can order tests to determine the exact location of the damaged disc. Once this is known, you’ll likely be prescribed one or more conservative treatments to help manage your discomfort. These include:
- Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs — to reduce pain and swelling
- Starting a low-impact exercise routine — to strengthen back muscles
- Stretching — to increase ligament and tendon flexibility
- Applying alternating cold and hot compresses to the injury site — to diminish swelling, relax muscles and increase blood flow to the disc
- Incorporating limited periods of rest — to relieve stress and allow the spine to decompress
Many patients also report success with alternative pain management techniques, such as acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy and meditation. In many cases, conservative strategies can provide significant relief from symptoms during the recovery process. However, if neck or back pain continues after several months of treatment, then surgery may be necessary to provide long-term relief.
At USA Spine Care, our board-certified surgeons+ have performed more than 75,000 minimally invasive procedures that have helped patients with chronic neck or back pain regain a higher quality of life. If you’re wondering whether or not you might be a candidate for one of our outpatient procedures, then the first step is to obtain a free MRI review.* For information on how to get yours, contact a member of our team today.