Small Annular Tear

Small Annular Tear | BEST

An annular tear could be just a small tear in the spinal disc, but it can cause big problems for your daily activities. In many cases, some people never notice that they have an annular tear, but for the people who experience the pain and symptoms that this condition can sometimes cause, this small tear is nothing to overlook. 

An annular tear is a small rip in the outer wall, or annulus fibrosus, of a spinal disc. The discs of the spine serve an important role as shock absorbers against daily wear and tears, cushioning the other parts of the spine. If the annular tear is small and symptom-free, causing no noticeable discomfort, there are likely conservative treatment options that can treat your tear. However, if the inner contents rupture the disc by pushing through the tear and escaping into the spinal canal, painful symptoms can often appear due to nerve irritation and compression. Annular tears are most common in the lumbar spine, as that is the portion of the spine that bears the largest share of the body’s weight. 

Annular tear pain can be both mentally and physically exhausting, causing you to miss out on the regular activities you enjoy. Things that were once easy, like walking or running, have now become too painful to do. If you are interested in learning more about small annular tears, allow this guide to help you navigate different causes, symptoms, diagnostic procedures, and treatment options. 

Causes

The most common cause of an annular tear is a combination of the natural spine deterioration that occurs with aging and increased pressure on the affected spinal disc. With age, some form of spinal deterioration is inevitable. Spinal discs often lose some of their elasticity and water content and become more susceptible to damage. While the muscles that support the spine helps to prevent undue pressure on a weakened disc, there are factors that can increase the odds of an annular tear occurring. They include:

  • Obesity
  • Poor posture
  • Frequent bending or heavy lifting
  • High-impact activities
  • Tobacco use

In addition to these risk factors, a traumatic injury can also cause an annular tear, but this is a much less common source in comparison to natural degeneration. 

Treatment Options

Upon diagnosis, your physician will typically recommend trying at-home treatment methods for several weeks to see if your symptoms can be reduced. Some of the annular tear treatment options your doctor may suggest can be attempted from the comfort of your own home, including:

  • Targeted stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Hot/cold therapy
  • Lifestyle modifications
  • Rest

If a patient has tried these conservative efforts and has not noticed any results, they may be a candidate for surgery. Although your physician may recommend open spine surgery, BEST Health System offers alternative, non-invasive treatment options.

Diagnosing Annular Tears

If you believe you may have an annular tear, a physician should be able to give you a correct diagnosis. The diagnosis process typically begins with a briefing of your health history, followed by some form of imaging. An MRI is one of the most common methods used for diagnosing an annular tear. However, MRIs do not pick up all annular tears. In this case, the doctor may issue a CT discogram to further observe. 

Symptoms

A variety of symptoms can develop as a result of an annular tear. Some of these symptoms depend on the location and severity of the torn disc, and others simply vary from person to person. 

Chronic neck or back pain is the most common symptom of an annular tear. However, it is important to mention that when a disc tears, the process itself is not always painful. In fact, some people have a torn disc and never know it. Instead, pain caused by an annular tear is usually a result of the disc’s inner core seeping out into the spinal canal and compressing a nerve or nerve root. Since the spinal nerves are incredibly sensitive, even mild pressure can lead to severe, chronic pain. 

This nerve compression can also cause neurological symptoms, such as pins-and-needles sensations and muscle weakness. Sometimes, these issues are localized to the site of the compression, but in other situations, they travel along the path of the affected nerve. In the case of a cervical annular tear, these symptoms can radiate through an arm or hand. For a lumbar annular tear, they can travel through a leg or foot.

Reach out to BEST Health System

If you are interested in learning more about BEST Health System’s noninvasive treatment options, contact us today and get started on your path to recovery. 

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