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Annular Tears

Spinal Condition Irritating Nearby Nerves and Causing Significant Pain

An annular tear occurs when the tough exterior of an intervertebral disc (the annulus fibrosus) rips or tears.

Annular Tears Facts & Information

Annular tears can cause fluid to leak out of vertebral discs of the spine, irritating nearby nerves and causing significant pain, numbness and tingling in the back, neck or legs. Annular tears are most often the result of normal wear and tear associated with the aging process. Since the tears may not fully heal, the risk of re-injury is high.

How & Why Do Annular Tears Develop?

Annular tears are spinal conditions that affect the vertebral discs that cushion the bones of the spine. A disc’s tough exterior surrounds an inner jelly-like substance. As you move, this inner substance shifts to absorb stress from the spine and to reduce the force exerted on your back. Factors that generate the most force are sitting, standing from a sitting position and maneuvers that increase pressure inside your abdomen, such as coughing, sneezing and straining.

When an annular tear occurs in the tough outer shell of the disc, some liquid from the inner substance can leak out and irritate nearby nerves, leading to inflammation. Additionally, if the tear is large enough, a disc herniation may occur in which the inner substance pushes through the tough exterior and into the spinal canal, causing further symptoms such as weakness. Though the location and quality of the pain may be similar for annular tears and disc herniations, the pain of an annular tear is typically caused by a chemical irritation of nerves (cause by the liquid) as opposed to the structural (mechanical) irritation associated with a herniated disc. Although most annular tears occur because of the natural aging process, they can also develop by any type of back trauma, such as the force of a car accident, a fall or a sports-related injury.

Symptoms


The symptoms related to annular tears can be very similar to other conditions of the back, neck, and legs. Because the condition affects the nerves, pain could radiate to other parts of the body. Most patients who have suffered from annular tears have indicated that most of the symptoms are:

  • Significant pain in the (cervical or lumbar) spine, neck, or legs
  • Numbness
  • Tingling

Diagnosis


Proper diagnosis starts with an experienced pain management doctor. The type of pain that you may have with annular tears can be similar to the symptoms of several types of disorders. Accurately determining the correct source of your pain is critical to successful treatment.

  • Begins with a thorough clinical evaluation
  • Including a complete medical history, analysis of your symptoms, and physical examination
  • Testing may include x-rays, MRI and/or CT scans, and electro-diagnosis (EMG)
  • These advanced diagnostic techniques definitively pinpoint the source of pain

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