People with an annular tear often find themselves with a lot of questions about treatment. One reason is an annular tear may sound like a more serious condition than it is. This is not to say this condition is not serious. Patients should take it seriously and seek treatment when an annular tear occurs.
However, although it may imply sudden or traumatic tearing, annular tears are far more commonly caused by natural aging. An annular tear is when one of the rubbery vertebral discs that cushions the spine develops a tear in the outer layer, called the annulus. This is often related to a condition called degenerative disc disease, which causes vertebral discs to become brittle and prone to cracks and tears.
Although an annular tear can be a difficult diagnosis, there are many effective treatments. By learning more, you can be more engaged as you seek the lasting relief you deserve.
That’s why the BEST Health System team is happy to share the following information. We also invite you to reach out if you’d like to learn more or have any questions at all.
Step one — understanding annular tears and basic treatment options
The spine is essential to both supporting the upper body and protecting the central nervous system. The vertebral discs help by cushioning the vertebrae, allowing the spine to bend and flex. Over time, the discs lose water content due to natural aging, making them less elastic and more brittle. This can lead to small cracks in the outer layer that can turn into tears or annular tears.
Annular tears are very common and may not even cause symptoms. Doctors only recommend treatment when diagnosing an annular tear that is causing pain due to either irritation of local nerves or if the vertebral disc is causing compression of the spinal cord or a nerve root.
For many patients, annular tear symptoms often respond to basic treatments, including:
- Resting the neck and back
- Cold compression, such as an ice pack
- Using a heating pad to improve circulation and relax tense muscles
- Over-the-counter medication, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Annular tears that aren’t symptomatic at first can also develop into more advanced conditions such as herniated or bulging discs, particularly since disc degeneration is part of aging.
Step two — committing to a spine-healthy lifestyle
Focusing on spine health is important because it can help with annular tear symptoms while also lowering the risk of the tear worsening or other related spine conditions developing.
Effective ways to improve spine health include:
- Reducing the stress on the spine by losing excess body weight
- Improving posture to evenly distribute weight on the discs
- Get regular exercise to strengthen supporting muscles and improve circulation
- Eat a healthy and nutrient-rich diet
- Avoid tobacco products and excessive alcohol consumption
Step three — exploring additional therapies
If pain and other symptoms related to an annular tear become disruptive to daily activities and quality of life, many patients explore more involved treatment. Physical therapy can be effective for improving spine function and relieving pain related to conditions such as an annular tear. By working with a licensed and experienced physical therapist, patients can improve their range of motion and strength in the neck and back. This can help overcome annular tear symptoms.
Another option is therapeutic injections, typically consisting of a corticosteroid and numbing agent, that helps to relieve inflammation around the vertebral disc. Patients often report experiencing significant relief for a period of weeks or longer, which can help promote increased activity and assist with physical therapy.
Step four — knowing when to consider annular tear surgery
Surgery is generally a last resort for annular tears, and often when the tear has progressed to a herniated disc or if there is severe degenerative disc disease. If weeks or months of other treatment have not offered relief, a minimally invasive procedure can offer the best chance of long-term relief and an active lifestyle for many.
To learn more about the treatment options available at BEST Health System, from diagnostics to spinal injections, contact our caring and dedicated team today.