An annular tear is a small rip in the outer wall, or annulus fibrosus, of a spinal disc. The discs of the spine serve an important role as shock absorbers against daily wear and tear, cushioning the other parts of the spine. In many cases, annular tears can be small and symptom-free, causing no noticeable discomfort. However, if the inner contents rupture the disc by pushing through the tear and escaping into the spinal canal, painful symptoms can often appear due to nerve irritation and compression. Annular tears are most common in the lumbar spine (lower back area), as that is the portion of the spine that bears the largest share of the body’s weight.
Annular tear causes
The most common cause of an annular tear is a combination of the natural spinal deterioration that occurs with aging and increased pressure on the affected spinal disc. As we pass the age of 50, some form of spinal deterioration becomes inevitable. Spinal discs often lose some of their elasticity and water content and become more susceptible to damage. While the muscles that support the spine can help to prevent undue pressure on a weakened disc, there are factors that can increase the odds of an annular tear occurring. They include:
- Carrying extra weight
- Poor posture
- Frequent bending and heavy lifting
- High-impact activities
- Tobacco use
A traumatic injury can also cause an annular tear, but this is a much less common source in comparison to natural degeneration.
Treating annular tears
If an annular tear turns into a disc rupture and the spinal cord or nearby nerve roots are compressed by disc materials, symptoms can develop that can make daily life difficult. Fortunately, many patients are able to find relief through conservative and alternative treatments such as pain and anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation and more. If these treatments don’t provide symptom relief, however, surgery might be the next best option.
At USA Spine Care, we perform minimally invasive surgery to treat annular tears and other spinal conditions. Our outpatient procedures are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^ If you would like to find out if you are a candidate for our outpatient procedures, we would be happy to provide a free MRI review.* Contact USA Spine Care today to learn how to obtain yours.