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Annular Tear

What is an Annular Tear?

Annular tears are a common, degenerative condition that can develop in the spine naturally as you age or through external factors such as an injury or abnormal stress on the spine. An annular tear is formed when the normally thick outer layer of a disc is ripped or torn as a result of stress. After an annular tear is formed, additional stress on the disc can cause the soft inner “jelly” (nucleus pulposus) to leak out from the interior of the disc forming what is known as a Herniated Disc. If this leakage happens on the rear side of the disc, the nucleus pulposus can press against the nearby nerve roots resulting in what is commonly referred to as a “pinched nerve”.

A herniated disc formed as the result of an annular tear

What causes an annular tear to form?

Annular tears can be formed in a variety of ways. The most common way annular tears are formed is through normal activity as part of the natural aging process. They can also form as the result of an injury that places an abnormal amount of stress on the disc and spine. The majority of annular tears are asymptomatic and are able to heal on their own without medical intervention, but on rare occasions an annular tear may not be able to properly heal and a medical intervention such as minimally invasive spine surgery may be required.  

What are the types of annular tears?

Annular tears are typically classified into one of three categories.

  • Peripheral tears are formed when the tough outer fibers are the disc are torn, usually due to a traumatic injury or bone spur. These tears can lead to disc degeneration and may require medical treatment.
  • Radial Tears are tears that form in the inner portion of the disc and spread outward. These kind of tears are commonly caused by aging, and if the tear reaches the outermost layer of the disc, it may cause a herniated disc to form.
  • Concentric tears form in a circular pattern in the outer layers of the disc. These type of tears are typically caused by injuries to the disc.

What symptoms are associated with an annular tear?

Annular tears can cause a variety of symptoms that may intensify if the tear progresses to herniated disc. Common symptoms include:

  • Back Pain
  • Neck Pain
  • Burning sensation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Reduction in Flexibility
  • Weakness, tingling, or numbness in the arms or legs
  • Radiating Pain
  • Sciatic Pain

How is an annular tear diagnosed?

A physical exam performed by an experienced spine physician is the best way to diagnose an annular tear. As part of this physical exam, your physician may order additional diagnostic imaging such as an MRI or CT Scan to confirm the presence of an annular tear and to help advise you on what treatment options are available.

What are the available treatments for an annular tear?

Annular tears can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the severity of the tear and your symptoms. Some common treatment options include:

  • Rhizotomy/RFA
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Physical Therapy
  • Steroid Injections
  • Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery
  • Spinal Fusions or other surgeries

If you suspect you may have an annular tear or are suffering from back or neck pain, our team of physicians at Total Spine and Orthopedics specialize in diagnosing the root cause of your pain in order to develop a personalized treatment plan so you can get back to living life to the fullest. If you’d like to know more or are ready to book your first appointment, simply fill out the form below and a member of our team will reach out to get you scheduled!

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