Annular tears can generally be traced to two main causes — aging and injury. Although aging is probably the biggest underlying factor, people of any age are also at risk of developing an annular tear through sudden trauma, like an automobile accident, or repetitive motion from work or sports.
If symptoms develop, an annular tear can be very disruptive to everyday life, taking you away from your family, friends, work and leisure time. Learning more about this condition and how injury can contribute to its development is a great first step in either the prevention or treatment of an annular tear.
The anatomy of an annular tear
To better understand how an annular tear or other disc conditions develop, it is helpful to understand the basic anatomy of a spinal disc. In the spine, rubbery discs sit between each vertebral body, absorbing shock and allowing for basic upper body movements. Each disc is made of two layers, a softer core called the nucleus pulposus and a tougher outer layer called the annulus fibrosus. The annulus fibrosus — which is the basis of the term annular tear — is made of concentric layers of cartilage fibers that strengthen the disc and equalize the pressure across it.
Tears can occur at any layer of the annulus fibrosus, weakening the disc and possibly allowing the inner gel-like material to push out. In people who have sustained traumatic injuries, the most commonly seen tears include:
- Peripheral tears. These tears occur at the outer edges of discs and can be caused by car accidents, sports injuries or contact with bones spurs that jut out from the vertebrae.
- Concentric tears. These tears occur between the layers of cartilage and are most commonly noted in people who place significant loads on their spines through frequent and repeated twisting motions. Examples include golfers who twist to gain power in their swings and gymnasts who position their spines into relatively unnatural positions.
An annular tear can cause pain at the site of the injury. If the disc deteriorates to the point of herniation, it may also compress spinal nerves and lead to radiating pain, weakness and other symptoms.
Outpatient treatment options
Upon diagnosis of an injury-related annular tear, doctors will typically prescribe a course of conservative treatment options. Rest, medication, hot and cold compresses, light exercise, steroid injections and physical therapy can all be effective in helping patients manage symptoms and restore mobility. If your symptoms have not been relieved by weeks or months of conservative treatment and you have been recommended for surgery, contact USA Spine Care today.
At USA Spine Care we provide minimally invasive spine surgery that offers less risk of complication compared to traditional open spine procedures, making ours a safer and effective alternative.^
To find out if you may be a candidate for one of these outpatient procedures, reach out to our dedicated team of Patient Empowerment Consultants today for a no-cost MRI review.*