A common cause of neck or back pain is an annular tear in one of the discs of the spine. Healthy discs are both strong and pliant, binding the vertebrae together, cushioning them from shocks and preventing the bones from rubbing together. As we age, however, discs can become less elastic and more susceptible to damage. Since these structures are under near-constant stress from supporting the body’s weight and absorbing impacts, rips and tears can form in the annulus or outer wall. If this happens, then it can allow mucoprotein gel from inside the disc to seep out. While this process may not cause pain in and of itself, if the material puts pressure on a nerve root, it can trigger symptoms that range from mild tingling in the fingers or toes to severe pain at the site of the injury.
Before devising an annular tear treatment strategy, your primary care physician will first order tests, such as a CT scan or MRI to pinpoint the location of the damaged disc. There are a number of conservative options that have proven to be effective in reducing pain caused by this condition. The following stretches can strengthen back muscles, loosen tight tendons and decompress the spine through gentle traction:
- Pelvic tilt. While lying on your back with your knees bent, tighten the buttocks and abdominal muscles so that your back flattens to the floor. Tilt your pelvis up and hold for five seconds. Return to your original position, then arch the lower back so your pelvis tilts downward. Hold for five seconds and relax. Begin with five repetitions and work your way up to 10 a day.
- Lower back stretch. Lying on your back, bend your knees toward your chest, then roll them to the right as far as is comfortable and hold for five seconds. Return your knees to the center and repeat on the left. Complete two sets of three repetitions each, resting between sets.
- Knee-to-chest stretch. With your shoulders firmly against the floor and your knees bent, raise one knee to your chest as far as it will go using only your abdominal muscles. Grip the knee with your hands and hold for five seconds. Lower the leg, again using only your abs, and repeat with the other leg. Try to do this three times daily.
- Chest raises. While lying on your stomach, place your hands directly under your shoulders and gently lift your chest off the ground while keeping your weight on your elbows. Hold for five seconds and lower your chest back to the floor. Repeat five times.
Always consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, and never stretch to the point of pain. Although many people can manage their symptoms through stretching and other conservative treatments, in some cases, surgery may be necessary to provide long-term relief from chronic neck or back pain. The experienced surgeons at USA Spine Care perform a variety of minimally invasive surgeries that have helped tens of thousands of patients with spinal conditions return to more active lifestyles. To determine if you might be a candidate for one of our outpatient procedures, we can provide a free MRI review.* Contact a member of our team today for more information.