An annular tear occurs when the fibrous outer shell of a spinal disc (the annulus fibrosus) ruptures, allowing the inner contents of the disc (nucleus pulposus) to escape into the spinal canal. While annular tears can sometimes be caused by an injury, they are most often the result of the natural deterioration spinal discs undergo after many years of serving as shock absorbers for the spine.
In many cases, a ruptured spinal disc doesn’t result in noticeable symptoms. However, if the portion of the nucleus pulposus that has extended into the spinal canal puts pressure on the spinal cord or a nearby nerve root, a variety of symptoms can appear and annular tear treatment may become necessary. These symptoms can include chronic localized pain, pain that radiates along a nerve pathway, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling.
Treating your symptoms at home
If you’ve been diagnosed with an annular tear, your physician will likely suggest you attempt a combination of conservative treatments for several weeks to see if your symptoms can be reduced. Some of the annular tear treatment options your doctor may suggest can be attempted from the comfort of your own home, including:
- Targeted stretching and strengthening exercises. Light exercise, when approved by your physician, can help improve your flexibility while also building the muscles that support the spine.
- Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can be used to temporarily manage pain and inflammation.
- Hot/cold therapy. Alternating hot and cold compresses on the affected area of the spine can also help reduce inflammation.
- Lifestyle modifications. Shedding excess weight, eating a healthy diet, using better posture and avoiding heavy lifting are some options that can help improve your overall spine health.
- Rest. Moderate periods of rest can reduce the strain on the spine and potentially alleviate your symptoms.
Some of the other treatment options that you may consider include corticosteroid (cortisone) injections, chiropractic care, restorative massage therapy, physical therapy and more.
When to consider surgical annular tear treatment
In many cases, several weeks or months of conservative and alternative treatment will reduce your symptoms enough that you can return to a normal, active lifestyle. However, if your symptoms persist or even worsen, you may need to consider surgery as a treatment option for your annular tear. While your physician might suggest open spine surgery, USA Spine Care can provide a no-cost MRI review* to see if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures, which are often the clinically appropriate first choice and offer many advantages versus open neck or back surgery.^
If you would like more information about the outpatient procedures we offer to treat annular tears and other degenerative spine conditions, contact Spine Institute today.