Annular Disc Tears

Annular Disc Tears

Your spinal column has 33 vertebrae and the top three-quarters of this are separated by discs. These discs (23 in total) all serve to cushion and protect the vertebrae. They absorb shock and help keep weight evenly distributed throughout the back and spinal column. Inside of the disc, is the nucleus and this is made of a soft, gelatinous fluid, while the outer shell is made of more fibrous connective tissue called the annulus fibrosus. As we begin to age, the vertebral discs and start to wear down and cause serious symptoms and issues. A common one being tears in the annulus fibrosus, also known as annular fibers, and this is known as an annular tear. This can cause fluid to leak out of vertebral discs of the spine, irritating nearby nerves and causing significant pain, numbness and tingling in the back, neck or legs.

Typically, these annular tears occur over the lumbar portion of the spine, known as the lower back. They happen from the inside on out, starting from the nucleus. Vertebral discs lose their durability with age and weakened annular fibers can start to tear. Excess body weight can lead to annular tears, as well as twisting motions and lifting a lot of weight or moving too suddenly. Injuries to the spine can also cause annular tears as well.

If you do have an annular tear, you more than likely might not suffer from any symptoms Unfortunately, since you do not have symptoms and do not know you have this condition, you could potentially engage in activity and worsen it. It can become difficult to find relief from annular tears once you begin to feel some discomfort, usually in the form of lower back pain. As annular tears become worse (and possibly leak onto adjacent tissue and nerves), symptoms may also present more severely and the disc can start to bulge leading to pain, discomfort and tingling or numbness down the arms and legs. Annular tears have low, but real potential, to heal on their own, but this requires a significant amount of downtime. Sometimes they heal but it is not guaranteed, and if the tears may not fully heal, the risk of re-injury is high.

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What Are the Treatment Options for Annular Disc Tears?

Conservative options are often prescribed, yet none has been shown to properly heal torn discs. Some of these options include: 

  • Pain medications such as opioids
  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy treatments
  • Low impact exercise such as walking
  • The Biodisc® Procedure using the body’s own natural fibrin material to help the torn and leaking discs to heal through a minimally invasive procedure completed within 1-2 hours.

If conservative treatments are not effective, then more minimally invasive procedures may be necessary. An endoscopic discectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that can help to remove painful loose disc fragments in annular tears. Other more advanced treatment options include using a patient’s own stem cells to help regenerate their annular fibers.

Severe annular tears, when left untreated, can lead to more painful conditions, such as herniated discs. Proper diagnosis starts with an experienced physician. The type of pain that you may have with annular tears can be similar to the symptoms of several types of disorders. This begins with a thorough clinical evaluation, including a complete medical history, analysis of your symptoms, and physical examination. Testing may include x-rays, MRI and/or CT scans, and electro-diagnosis (EMG). These advanced diagnostic techniques definitively pinpoint the source of pain you may be experiencing. A good treatment plan can help to relieve your discomfort and return you to a pain-free and active lifestyle. The Biodisc® procedure is a much less invasive option, with a much more shortened recovery period than a more invasive procedure. See if you might be a candidate for Biodisc® today. Request a consultation now with one of our minimally invasive spine specialists.

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