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Is an annular tear a serious condition?

An annular tear occurs when the firm outer border of a spinal disc (annulus fibrosus) breaks open. Because the surface layers of an annulus fibrosus contain many sensitive nerve fibers, this type of injury can potentially be painful. With that said, this relatively common condition is generally not serious and the associated pain is usually temporary. Oftentimes, scar tissue will form around a torn disc and the injury will heal on its own. However, an injured disc may become more prone to future tears and premature degeneration.

What causes a spinal disc to tear?

While an annular tear can result from trauma, such as a direct blow to the spine, the condition is more commonly associated with the natural aging process. Because the lower back supports the majority of the body’s weight through a wide range of motion, the lumbar spine is highly susceptible to the effects of wear and tear. As a result, the spinal discs gradually break down and deteriorate over time. In a weakened state, an annulus fibrosus can easily tear.

What are the symptoms of an annular tear?

An annular tear in the lumbar spine may produce low back and leg pain. In many cases, the pain worsens with sitting and improves with standing. The symptoms may also be aggravated by movements and body positions that load pressure onto an injured disc, such as:

  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Bending forward
  • Twisting the spine
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing

How is an annular tear treated?

Treatment for a torn disc usually begins with a customized regimen of physical therapy, low-impact exercises, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, pain relievers and limited rest. In many cases, this approach provides sufficient relief within several weeks. However, if the pain persists, a spine specialist may recommend more advanced treatments, such as a spinal injection or surgical procedure to address the source of the discomfort.

If you’re interested in exploring your surgical treatment options for an annular tear, contact USA Spine Care to request a free MRI review.* Our team can help you determine if you are a candidate for a minimally invasive outpatient procedure at the USA Spine Care surgery center nearest you.

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