An annular tear occurs when the outer layer of a spinal disc, called the annulus fibrosus, develops a rip or tear. This is generally an age-related condition that becomes more likely as the discs lose elasticity and are less able to withstand the stress they are being placed under on a daily basis. An annular tear can be a source of pain and other symptoms, especially if inner disc material, called the nucleus pulposus, pushes through the tear and results in nerve compression.
It is possible for an annular tear to heal on its own, but this process can be slow and difficult due to the relatively poor blood supply the discs receive combined with natural disc degeneration. Upon diagnosis of an annular tear as the source of pain and other symptoms, most doctors will start with a course of conservative treatments designed to help manage pain, restore mobility and promote spinal health.
Annular tear treatment that can help the healing process
A comprehensive annular tear treatment plan designed to help the healing process should include the following:
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can help you learn exercises and movements that improve core strength and spinal flexibility, which can take pressure off the discs and help them heal.
- Regular exercise. Engaging in low-impact aerobics and strengthening exercises can improve blood flow and core strength.
- Massage therapy. Massage therapy can stimulate blood flow and relax tense muscles around the torn disc, easing symptoms and helping with healing.
- A weight management plan. Being overweight or obese adds to the pressure on the spine, making an annular tear more likely to develop and slower to heal.
- Quitting smoking. Tobacco products inhibit blood flow to the spine and also contain harmful chemicals that can speed up disc degeneration.
- Improving posture. Being aware of your posture throughout the day will improve spinal alignment and help minimize the stress your discs have to withstand.
It is typical for conservative treatments to be attempted for a period of weeks or months while you and your doctor see how the condition is progressing. Medication and spinal injections may also be recommended to help manage more severe cases of pain and other symptoms.
Exploring your surgical options
If you have fully exhausted conservative annular tear treatment options without the condition healing and it progresses to a herniated or ruptured disc, you may eventually be recommended to undergo spine surgery. As you research your options, contact the dedicated team at USA Spine Care to learn more about the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery. Our procedures are an outpatient alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery, offering our patients a shorter recovery time with less risk of complication.^
We can help you receive a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.