What is an Annular Tear?

Annular tears occur when the discs of cartilage between the spinal vertebrae rip open. This causes inflammation in the spine, which can lead to spinal nerve pinching and disc misalignment.

As a cause of various spinal conditions, such as disc herniation, an annular tear can exacerbate spinal conditions like osteoarthritis, facet joint syndrome and spinal stenosis. The discs in the spinal column are responsible for much of the body's weight, and an annular tear damages the integrity of the spine, affecting the entire body.

Causes of Annular Tear

An annular tear is usually caused by a combination of an acute back injury on top of chronic spinal injury. Just about any back movement can cause annular tear, but it is much less likely if the spinal discs are healthy and have not deteriorated much over the years.

  • General Wear and Tear: Chronic spinal injuries that lead to annular tearing can occur in jobs that require repetitive motions or positions, such as heavy lifting or sitting in one place all day.
  • Obesity and Scoliosis: Any chronic condition that places stress on the spinal column, such as obesity or scoliosis, can make it more likely for an individual to suffer from annular tearing in the future.
  • Heredity: Genetic predisposition can lead to higher risk of annular tearing. Patients whose families have a history of back injuries may need to take extra care of their spinal health.
  • Injury: Annular tearing is most commonly caused by an injury. Injuries can occur when lifting something too heavy, twisting at an awkward angle to lift a heavy object, suffering trauma such as an auto or sports accident, or even just sitting down or standing up too quickly.

Symptoms of Annular Tear

Annular tear can lead to a number of back pain symptoms, including, but not limited to:

  • Pain from pinched spinal nerves
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness and "pins and needles" sensation
  • Temporary paralysis
  • Sexual dysfunction due to lumbar herniation
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control

For the most part, all symptoms of annular tear are caused by undue pressure being placed on the nerves or organs in the body.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Annular Tear

Diagnosis typically consists of a physical examination and review of medical history. The doctor will look to see the patient has any of the above symptoms, a history of accidents and repetitive strains, or family history of back injury. The doctor will then confirm the diagnosis with an MRI scan.

To treat an annular tear, a doctor may start by prescribing low-dosage pain medication. Annular tears often heal themselves unless they are overly serious. For mild to moderate cases, patients may require massage therapy, hot-cold therapy or alternative therapies like acupuncture.

If there is no improvement after a few months of treatment, doctors may prescribe endoscopic surgery. Those suffering from back pain are encouraged to contact their physician to discuss treatment options.

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