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Annular tear

What is an annular tear?

An annular tear is a spinal condition characterized by a rip or tear in the exterior layer (annulus fibrosus) of a spinal disc, which is made up of rings of cartilage and encases the disc’s gelatinous inner core (nucleus pulposus). When an annular tear occurs, the nucleus pulposus may seep out of the disc and into the spinal column.

How is an annular tear diagnosed?

Individuals who may be suffering from an annular tear should consult with a physician who can provide an accurate diagnosis. Most often, the diagnostic process will begin with a physician reviewing a patient’s symptoms and medical history and then conducting a physical examination to get a better look at the patient’s spine. Medical imaging, such as an X-ray or CT scan, may also be necessary to confirm a suspected annular tear diagnosis, as well as to pinpoint the precise location of the tear.

What causes an annular tear?

The two most common causes of an annular tear are spinal degeneration and traumatic injury. Like other parts of the body, spinal components become weaker over time, making them more susceptible to damage. On the other hand, a sudden injury, like one obtained in a car accident, can also cause a tear in the annulus fibrosus.

Additionally, certain lifestyle factors, like excessive weight, tobacco use and participation in high-impact sports, can make the spine deteriorate at a faster rate, putting it at a higher risk for developing an annular tear.

What are the symptoms of an annular tear?

The symptoms of an annular tear can vary from person to person. For instance, some individuals never experience any pain from their annular tear, and only learn of the condition when receiving treatment for a separate issue. For others, the annular tear causes the compression of a nerve root, which can cause severe symptoms to develop, such as localized or radiating pain, numbness or tingling in the extremities, muscle weakness and loss of fine motor skills, in extreme cases.

What are some common treatments of an annular tear?

For most, annular tear treatment will begin with a combination of conservative methods like rest, pain medication, hot/cold compresses and low-impact exercises. Some patients may choose to explore alternative methods of annular tear treatment, like acupuncture or massage therapy, on their own. Regardless, it is important to follow your physician’s instructions carefully, and communicate any new or worsening symptoms so your treatment can be adjusted accordingly.

Will I need surgery?

Though many patients find conservative and alternative treatments successful in managing their symptoms, some may require surgery to provide them with lasting relief. Since 2005, we have been helping patients get their lives back from neck and back pain with minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, Florida.

While there are traditional surgical options available to those with an annular tear, our minimally invasive procedures offer several advantages comparatively, including a shorter recovery time^ and a reduced risk of complication. Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost review* of your MRI to determine if you are a candidate for our procedures.