Annular Tear vs. Herniated Disc

What is the Difference?

Though very similar, annular tears and herniated discs are two different conditions that can occur due to spinal degeneration. To better understand these conditions, let’s first discuss the factors that can cause them.

A healthy spinal disc lies between two vertebrae in the spine and has a tough outer shell and a gel-like inner core. Its natural elasticity allows it to experience pressure from various body movements and quickly return to its normal shape. As we age, spinal discs become brittle and lose water content, making them susceptible to damage. An annular tear, or a small rip in the disc’s outer wall, develops when a weakened disc experiences sudden or constant pressure.

In many cases, these tears are small and don’t result in noticeable symptoms or affect the disc’s integrity. However, if the pressure on the disc causes its inner, gel-like contents to push through the tear and escape into the spinal canal, this is known as a herniated disc. This often leads to compression of the spinal cord or a nearby nerve root, and symptoms such as radiating pain, muscle weakness, numbness, and tingling can develop.

Treatment Options for an Annular Tear or Herniated Disc

If an annular tear results in disc herniation and you experience symptoms that interfere with your enjoyment of day-to-day life, there are a variety of treatment options that could help you find the relief you are looking for. In many cases, patients can relieve some of the pressure on the damaged disc — and thus reduce their symptoms — by following a regimen that strengthens the muscles supporting the spine and improves overall spine health. This can include:

  • Shedding excess pounds
  • Avoiding frequent bending and heavy lifting
  • Having epidural injections to reduce inflammation
  • Eating a healthier diet
  • Eliminating tobacco and alcohol use
  • Practicing better posture
  • Doing targeted strengthening exercises

Additionally, many individuals incorporate alternative treatments such as physical therapy, massage therapy, and restorative yoga into their treatment regimens.

Treatment at BEST Health System

At BEST Health System, we believe in finding patients find the least invasive treatment option. In many cases, patients can find relief through conservative therapies. However, sometimes surgery is necessary. If you are a candidate for herniated disc surgery or annular tear surgery, BEST is the place to go. Our board-certified surgeons specialize in minimally-invasive surgery techniques that allow patients to leave with less scarring and enjoy a shorter recovery. Contact BEST today for more information.