When to Consider Annular Tear Surgery — Four Big Signs

There are many approaches to annular tear surgery, but the overriding goal is to relieve pain and other symptoms related to this condition. For many, an annular tear is a manageable condition that requires minimal treatment. However, in more severe cases, annular tear pain and related conditions can cause excruciating pain and mobility problems that can affect nearly every part of your life. 

Whether you have been diagnosed with an annular tear and are researching potential treatment options or you have been living with this condition for years, it is natural to wonder if surgery is your best treatment option. If you are starting to consider annular tear surgery, the BEST Health System team is happy to share the following guide. If you are interested in learning more about the treatment options through BEST, we encourage you to connect with our team today. 

1. Your Torn Spinal Disc is Causing Chronic Symptoms

An annular tear is a common condition. In fact, a person can have one or more small tears on their spinal discs without even knowing it. Over time, the aging process and everyday wear and tear causes the spinal discs to dry out and become brittle. These discs are responsible for cushioning the vertebrae in the spine and are made of an outer layer of rubbery cartilage, called the annulus fibrosus, and an inner gelatinous core called the nucleus pulposus. 

As the discs dry out and lose elasticity, they can develop tears in the annulus fibrosus which are diagnosed as annular tears. These tears aren’t necessarily painful unless they irritate the limited amount of nerves on the spinal discs or compress the surrounding nerves in the spinal column. 

If a patient discovers they have an annular tear and there are no symptoms or minor symptoms, surgery is not recommended. Spine surgery for an annular tear is elective and should only be considered for severe and persistent symptoms that are negatively affecting quality of life. 

2. The Annular Tear has Progressed to Disc Herniation

It is important to understand that annular tears can be progressive in nature, which is why it is so important to take nonsurgical treatment seriously if you have been diagnosed with one. Annular tears can worsen and increase the risk of disc herniation, which is when material from the nucleus begins to push through the tear. Herniated spinal discs pose a higher risk of developing debilitating symptoms because displaced disc material can compress the cord or nerve roots. 

Cases, where an initial diagnosis of an annular tear progresses to disc herniation, can be a common indicator for surgery. 

3. You Have Attempted Physical Therapy and Other Conservative Treatments Without Finding Relief

The standard treatment recommendation for most spinal disc conditions, especially those related to wear and tear and aging, is to fully explore nonsurgical treatments. 

Often, by combining therapies designed to relieve pain with those that can improve function and promote spine health, it is possible to find lasting relief without the need for surgery. In addition to periods of rest, over-the-counter medication and alternating hot/cold compression, physical therapy, and therapeutic injections can all be powerful options for people seeking relief from annular tears. 

By working with a physical therapist to improve range of motion, strengthen supporting muscles, and correct postural and mechanical issues, people with spine conditions are often able to reduce symptoms and increase function. However, for people already suffering from chronic pain, a course of physical therapy can be difficult. 

For people in this situation, corticosteroid injections can help relieve pain and inflammation for a period of weeks or months, helping patients increase activity levels and complete treatments such as physical therapy that may not have been otherwise possible. However, if you and your doctor have fully attempted conservative therapies and have not noticed any meaningful results, it may be time to consider surgery. 

4. You Have Committed to a Healthy Lifestyle to Slow Wear and Tear on the Spine – and You’re Still Living with Pain

Another important consideration before undergoing surgery for an annular tear or other spinal disc condition is to fully commit to a spine-healthy lifestyle. While it is not possible to reverse the aging process, you can slow down its progress by reducing stress on the spine, building a strong body, improving posture, increasing blood flow, and eating a nutrient-rich diet. 

You should also follow any doctor-recommended steps such as quitting smoking or starting a weight-management program, if necessary. By combining a proactive approach to conservative therapy with a commitment to healthy choices, many people are able to overcome chronic neck or back pain. If symptoms persist or worsen despite fully exploring these options, you can be all the more confident that elective spine surgery for an annular tear is right for you. 

BEST Health System

If you or a loved one is suffering from an annular tear, take the first step and call BEST Health System today. Our team is dedicated to finding all patients the most effective, least invasive treatment option that promises results. The BEST is yet to come.