Between each vertebra of the spine is a cushioning disc that features a soft, gel-like interior (the nucleus pulposus) and a tougher outer casing (the annulus fibrosis). An annular tear occurs when this tough casing tears or rips, potentially causing the disc’s inner contents to seep out and irritate nearby spinal components.
What are the symptoms of an annular tear?
The symptoms of an annular tear will vary depending on the extent of the injury and where specifically it is located in the spine. Most annular tears occur in the lumbar spine, or the lower back, since this portion of the spine is tasked with supporting the weight of the upper body and facilitating movement. Some common symptoms associated with an annular tear in the lumbar spine include:
- Sciatica (radiating or shooting discomfort and numbness from sciatic nerve irritation)
- Numbness or tingling sensations in the thigh, groin or feet
- Muscle weakness in the lower body
- Pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion
What causes an annular tear?
There are three main types of annular tears, each with its own causes:
- Concentric tears — occurring circumferentially between the layers of the disc’s outer shell, these tears usually result from trauma, such as a sports injury or car accident
- Peripheral tears — these injuries can be brought on by a traumatic injury or contact with a bone spur, and develop in the outer fibers of the disc’s shell
- Radial tears — the natural aging process is to blame for radial tears, which originate at the center of the disc and extend all the way through its shell
How is an annular tear diagnosed and treated?
Diagnosing an annular tear can be tricky since many spinal conditions share the same symptoms. However, most people with persistent back pain typically begin by consulting with their primary care doctor, who may recommend diagnostic procedures such as an MRI or CT discography. The majority of back pain sufferers are able to find relief with conservative treatments like physical therapy, hot or cold compresses, pain medication, epidural injections, chiropractic adjustments and other nonsurgical methods.
Will I need surgery?
In many cases patients don’t require surgery to repair annular tears. However, those with severe symptoms that do not respond to conservative therapies may be candidates for surgical treatment relieve nerve compression or stabilize the spine.
At Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia, we offer minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open spine surgery. Our board-certified surgeons+ perform procedures that require a less than 1-inch incision, resulting in a streamlined recovery period^ and a reduced risk of infection and surgical complications when compared to traditional open spine surgery.
To learn if you are a candidate for minimally invasive surgery at Laser Spine Institute, contact us today to receive a no-cost MRI review.*