Annular tears occur in the annulus, or outer layer, of intervertebral discs. These discs act as shock-absorbing cushions, protecting the spinal column. As we age, they gradually weaken and develop tiny tears and fissures. Annular tears often go unnoticed, and some may heal on their own. However, some tears can do damage to the disc and cause pain that intensifies and becomes chronic.
What Causes Annular Tears?
As an annular tear gets larger, it can irritate the outer third of the disc, which contains several nerves. Larger tears can cause the disc to rupture, called a herniated disc, which places significant pressure on the nerves surrounding the vertebrae. This can cause radiating pain, weakness, and numbness in the arms and legs referred to as radiculopathy.
Annular tears in individuals over the age of 60 can be an early sign of degenerative disc disease caused by osteoarthritis. Tears can also be caused by bone spurs, protrusions that form on the bones in response to inflammation. These bony growths can extend into the disc space and cause a rupture. Traumatic injuries such as car accidents, collisions, and falls can also cause tears to form in the spinal discs.
Overuse is a huge culprit as well. Repetitive heavy lifting and constant overexertion places strain on the spine. Occupations that involve manual labor or chronic strain on the spine place you at a higher risk for developing an annular tear. This can include athletics, nursing, and construction to name a few. Moreover, desk work with bad posture and bad ergonomics is also to blame.
How to Detect an Annular Tear
Many annular tears will not cause any pain and will heal on their own, but some tears can develop to be quite painful. Since annular tears further weaken the structural support of the disc, the pain will intensify with movement. The pain from an annular tear may at first be acute but can gradually become chronic and irritating, interfering with daily life.
The best way to identify an annular tear is through imaging of the spine, which can be done using MRI. These scans allow us to assess the size and direction of the tear, along with its proximity to nerve roots and the spinal cord.
How to Treat an Annular Tear
An annular tear is an indicator that degenerative disc disease may be starting. Dr. Melamed takes an integrative approach, utilizing both western medicine and holistic therapies. This can include non-surgical therapies based on Integrative Medicine techniques, lifestyle optimization, and an anti-inflammatory diet program.
Most patients respond well to these holistic solutions, but some patients may not. If surgery is your best choice, Dr. Melamed may request additional imaging tests. He will review the most appropriate surgical options and discuss the therapeutic benefits of his Opiate-Free Surgery and Pain Management System, which has helped hundreds of patients recover from back pain and avoid potential addiction problems during the recovery phase.
Most of these annular tears can be treated successfully without invasive surgery. Off-label use of FDA approved products such as PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) and Iliac Crest Bone Marrow injections in the disc along with lifestyle modifications can be very helpful in lessening the pain and allowing the body to potentially heal the tear.
If you’re experiencing back pain, schedule a consultation with The Spine Pro. We consider every factor and create an individualized treatment plan for you, focusing on noninvasive interventions before considering other treatments. Schedule an appointment online today!