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What is an Annular Tear?


The bones in your spine (vertebrae) are supported by discs that cushion the vertebrae. The discs have a tough exterior (annulus fibrosus) and soft, jelly-like center (nucleus pulposus) that absorbs the impact of our movements. Annular tears can be caused by excess stress on a disc, which can result from repetitive daily movements or some trauma. Annular tear pain and other symptoms vary depending on their location along your spine and the severity of the tear.

Annular tears are categorized as follows:

  • Radial tears – These are the most common and often caused by the degenerative changes that happen as we age. A radial tear begins at the disc’s center and extends through to the outer layer of the annulus fibrosus. These tears tend to lead to herniated discs.
  • Peripheral tears – Traumatic injury is the most common cause of this type of annular tear, which affects the outer fibers of the annulus fibrosus. Bone spurs are another common cause of peripheral tears. These types of tears can cause the disc to deteriorate.
  • Concentric tears – With this type of annular tear, the layers of the annulus fibrosus separate either partially or completely.

Annular tear pain can be severe, depending on the type of tear and damage to the disc, and can contribute to several other painful spine conditions.

Chronic back pain can stop you from doing the things you enjoy and keep you away from work. If other back pain treatments haven’t worked, Back Pain Centers of America (BPC) offers minimally invasive treatment options that can give you the relief you deserve. Call us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] today to learn more.

Man in pain from an annular tear

Annular Tear Causes and Risk Factors

Your spine supports most of your weight, so it’s not surprising that, as we get older, everyday wear and tear starts to take its toll. As we age, our discs lose water and become brittle and less flexible, making them more prone to tears. Along with aging, other things that can be considered causes of annular tear include:

  • Occupations and activities with repetitive motions, like lifting or twisting
  • Improper lifting
  • Sitting for extended periods, such as over a computer all day
  • Carrying excess body weight
  • Traumatic injuries, such as a car accident or contact sport injury

Spinal conditions that alter the spine’s alignment can also put extra stress on your discs and increase the risk of an annular tear, such as scoliosis.

annular tears

Annular Tear Symptoms

Annular tear symptoms are often mistaken for a simple back strain or a pulled muscle. Annular tear pain worsens when there is contact with a nearby nerve because of a herniated disc. This can cause the following symptoms:

  • Back pain that radiates to the buttocks or legs
  • Neck pain that radiates to the shoulders or arms
  • Numbness and weakness in the back, buttocks, groin, or legs
  • Numbness and weakness in the neck, shoulders, or arms
  • Limited flexibility

Other annular tear symptoms can include tingling and a “pins and needles” sensation and muscle spasms. Annular tear pain is often worse when sitting or when straining, such as when you cough or sneeze or when you bend or lift.

Annular Tear Treatment Options

Annular tear treatment depends on the severity of your condition. Using a combination of conservative, nonsurgical treatment options first is always recommended. Consult your physician to find out what is right for your specific case. Non-invasive annular tear treatment options include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medication – OTC pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can relieve mild to moderate pain and inflammation.
  • Heat and cold – Applying heat or cold may help with pain and inflammation.
  • Prescription pain medication – Stronger pain medication, such as narcotics, may be prescribed for severe pain. These are not recommended for long-term use because of their side effects and habit-forming tendency. Note that Back Pain Centers of America is not involved in the prescribing of narcotics.
  • Muscle relaxants – Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant if you’re having muscle spasms.
  • Massage – Massage can help to ease sore and stiff muscles.
  • Steroid injections – Corticosteroid medication injected directly into affected portion of the spine can be used for temporary relief of moderate to severe pain. An anesthetic (numbing agent) may be combined for extra relief of pain.
  • Physical therapy and exercise – Exercises to relieve pressure on the spine can help with pain and improve your flexibility and range of motion. Learning proper posture and safer lifting techniques can also help you avoid a ruptured disc and other back problems later on.
  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) – This type of therapy uses low-voltage electrical currents to stimulate the nerves for pain relief.

If a series of conservative treatments doesn’t provide relief of your annular tear pain, your doctor may recommend surgery. Minimally invasive annular tear treatment options can be used to decompress the nerve that is causing your symptoms. These outpatient procedures often provide immediate relief once the compressed nerve is released. The recovery time with minimally invasive annular tear treatment is considerably shorter than with traditional open surgery.

Our board-certified surgeons have used minimally invasive back pain treatment to help more than 30,000 patients suffering from chronic back and neck pain. To find out if any of our procedures are right for you, call [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] and speak to one of our patient coordinators today.

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