An annular tear is a common condition in the spine that occurs when the tough outer layer of a disc develops a tear due to constant pressure and strain. This condition is a common side effect of the natural degeneration of the spine. The discs in the spine rest between the vertebrae, acting as shock absorbers to cushion the vertebrae and joints as the spine jostles and moves throughout the day. In order to maintain their proper support and shape, the discs are made of a thick inner gel and a tough, elastic outer layer.
As time goes on and the spine undergoes pressure from weight gain and dress, the iscs can become pressed and squeezed between the vertebrae, phishing the inner disc fluid against the elastic outer layer. A healthy disc will hold the proper position under pressure by allowing the elastic outer layer to push in the inner disc fluid and hold it in place. However, after years of pressure and stretching, the elasticity in the outer layer may dissolve, allowing the inner disc fluid to form a small rip and tear in the outer layer. This is known as an annular tear.
What Causes an Annular Tear?
There are five main factors that can cause an annular tear to occur:
- Aging – As we get older, the normal aging process coupled with years of wear and tear on the spine cause the various spine components, including discs, to degenerate. As they become weaker, discs are more likely to develop annular tears.
- Excess Body Weight – Each day, a person’s spine must support the weight of the body, a strenuous task even in healthy-weight individuals. Excess body weight puts additional stress on the spine, increasing the rate of spinal degeneration and the risk of developing an annular tear.
- Sports – Many sports, like golf, gymnastics, and football, demand repetitive twisting and bending movements. These motions place excessive strain on the spine, causing the discs to deteriorate at a faster rate than the spine of those who do not participate in sports. This deterioration weakens the discs, making them more susceptible to an annular tear.
- Traumatic Injury – An annular tear caused by traumatic injury, such as a car accident or a fall, can occur at any age, regardless of the patient’s previous spine health.
- Genetics – Like many other spinal conditions, there appears to be a link between annular tears and a patient’s genetic makeup. While research is still being conducted to better understand the link, some individuals appear to inherently have weaker discs, making them more susceptible to annular tears.
Treatment for an Annular Tear
Conservative, nonsurgical treatment is often the first line of defense against the painful symptoms of an annular tear. For many patients, these treatments are effective in reducing their pain. However, for some patients, this is not the case. When several weeks or months of conservative treatment are not enough to manage a patient’s pain, their physician may recommend surgery.
Among the many surgical options for annular tears are the minimally invasive outpatient procedure performed at BEST Health System, which are alternatives to traditional open spine surgery.
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