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Annular tear

What is an annular tear?

An annular tear is a condition in which the outer wall of a spinal disc tears open, allowing the inner material to leak out into the spinal canal. A torn disc can occur anywhere in the spine, although they are especially common in the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) regions.

What causes an annular tear?

Annular tears are usually the result of normal spinal degeneration. Although the spinal discs are highly resilient shock absorbers for the spine, they gradually become less flexible and more brittle over time. As they lose their ability to regain their shape after being subjected to pressure, they become more prone to tearing. Tobacco use, carrying excess weight, frequently repeating bending and twisting motions of the spine and undergoing a traumatic impact can also make the spinal discs more likely to develop a tear.

Annular tear symptoms

An annular tear can cause minor discomfort, major pain or anything in between. Depending on the location of the torn disc (and whether the inner disc material compresses a nerve root), it can also cause symptoms that radiate along the affected nerve path. For instance, a torn disc with nerve root compression in the cervical spine can cause numbness, tingling and loss of feeling in an arm or hand; a torn disc with nerve root compression in the lumbar spine can cause similar issues in a leg or foot. Some individuals also experienced diminished reflexes and loss of muscle strength.

Annular tear diagnosis

To determine if an annular tear is the cause of a patient’s symptoms, a physician will perform a physical exam and review the results of one or more imaging scans. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs are all potential options for diagnostic imaging. However, annular tears do not always show up on these tests, so a discography may also be recommended.

Common treatments for an annular tear

The treatments recommended for an annular tear will depend on the type and severity of the patient’s symptoms. Most times, conservative (nonsurgical) therapies, such as medication and exercises, are recommended first by a physician and provide enough benefits that no other treatment is necessary. Complementary therapies, such as yoga and acupuncture, can also help patients manage their pain. However, there are some situations in which surgical treatment becomes an option.

Do I need surgery?

Not every person with an annular tear requires surgery. In fact, many patients return to normal activity without requiring an operation. However, those who do turn to surgical treatment often have a variety of options. Laser Spine Institute in Cincinnati performs minimally invasive spine surgery on an outpatient basis for degenerative conditions of the spine, including annular tears. Our muscle-sparing techniques offer several advantages over traditional open neck or back surgery, including less surgical blood loss and a shorter recovery time.^

To find out if you are a candidate for minimally invasive annular tear surgery at Laser Spine Institute contact us today for a no-cost MRI review.*