What is an Annular Tear?
Between the vertebrae of the spinal column rest discs made of cartilage, which cushion bones and facilitate movement. Surrounding each intervertebral disc, a tough, shock-absorbing layer known as the annulus protects the disc’s vulnerable interior. An annular tear occurs when this hard outer layer cracks or becomes ripped open. If the annulus is damaged, the soft, liquid-like inner material of the disc can leak out and cause a variety of problems, such as painful nerve compression. There are three main categories that nearly all annular tears fall into, depending on the cause and severity of the injury. These categories include:
Radial tears: This type of tear begins at the center of the disc and gradually grows to involve the outer layer of the annulus. When a disc suffers a radial tear of the annulus, it is almost certain that the patient will sustain a herniated disc.
Peripheral tears: Peripheral tears usually appear suddenly in the outer fibers of the annulus and do not radiate from the interior of the disc. After a peripheral tear occurs, however, the inside of the disc may begin to deteriorate.
Concentric tears: Like peripheral tears, concentric tears are generally caused by an unexpected and swift trauma. Concentric tears partially or completely separate layers of the annulus.
Annular tears affect many Americans and can spur, accelerate or intensify countless medical conditions. Men and women who experience an annular tear are more likely to suffer from:
- Inflammation of the spine
- Disc misalignment
- Spinal nerve pinching
- Herniated discs
- Facet joint syndrome
- Spinal stenosis
While some of these conditions are treatable, others can become incredibly debilitating if not properly addressed. By seeking timely medical care for damage to the annulus, patients can often avoid developing serious and detrimental secondary complications.
Annular Tear Causes
The neck and back bear the majority of a person’s body weight and are highly vulnerable to deterioration. In fact, by age 30, the spines of most men and women are less durable and flexible than they were in their peak state. Oftentimes, annular tears are the result of aging and the natural wear and tear that transpires as our body changes and becomes older. Some additional factors that may lead to an annular tear are:
- Making repetitive, improper motions
- Lifting heavy objects without taking safety precautions
- Sitting in one place for long periods of time each day
- Conditions that strain the spinal column, such as obesity and scoliosis
- Genetic predisposition
- Sudden injury, trauma or accident, usually from manual labor or high-impact sports like gymnastics or football
- Twisting awkwardly
- Sitting or standing too quickly
If you encounter one or more of the above, you may be at risk for an annular tear or another spine-related difficulty. Even if you are not yet experiencing symptoms, speak with your doctor about the best ways to maintain spinal health. Prevention plays a crucial role in the life-long wellness of the spine.
Annular Tear Symptoms
Usually, patients do not realize they have an annular tear until they begin to encounter symptoms of another condition that has developed as a result of the injury, such as the symptoms associated with a herniated disc or a compressed nerve. If you suspect you may be sustaining an annular tear, the following indicators may corroborate your speculations:
- Back and leg pain that may be mild or severe
- Discomfort that travels the length of a nerve
- Pain that becomes worse when sitting, sneezing, coughing, lifting or bending forward
- Numbness and weakness in the affected area and associated limbs
- Tingling and pins-and-needles sensations in the back, groin, legs or arms
In severe cases, an annular tear may lead to sexual dysfunction, temporary paralysis and the loss of bowel and bladder control. Annular tears that cause such severe symptoms may be evidence of a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if you or a loved one encounter a life-threatening annular tear.
Our Minimally Invasive Approach
At Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, our team of expert surgeons regularly helps patients identify and treat a number of spine-related complications. Through innovative, patient-centric care, we strive to provide long-term solutions, so that patients can return to their everyday activities without pain and other disabling symptoms.
During your initial consultation, one of our experienced specialists will carefully and compassionately analyze your medical history and physical state. Then, we will work with you to recommend the treatment or surgery that may be the best option for your unique situation. If you are suffering from an annular tear, components of your recuperation process will depend upon the severity and location of the crack, any secondary complications and other medical factors. An imaging test, such as an MRI scan, may be requested.
Generally, we encourage implementing conservative treatments, such as lifestyle changes and physical therapy, prior to exploring surgical intervention. In some cases, however, an annular tear may need to be addressed through minimally invasive surgery. To perform a minimally invasive procedure, a surgeon typically uses a thin, flexible laparoscopic camera and advanced instruments to create tiny incisions. When compared to traditional open operations minimally invasive surgeries yield many benefits, including:
- Shortened recovery times, allowing patients to return to work and other daily duties promptly
- Less pain
- Fewer potential post-surgery complications
- A reduced risk of scarring, trauma to surrounding tissues and high volumes of blood loss
At Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, our surgeons specialize in advanced minimally invasive treatment. However, our team also offers traditional surgeries for patients whose specific cases may necessitate open repair. The surgical approach used will depend upon the preferences of the patient, as well as relevant components of health like obesity, surgical history and/or the presence of scar tissue.
Depending on the extent of your annular tear, surgical intervention may involve removing a portion of the disc and stabilizing the healthy remainder or replacing the disc entirely with an artificial “spacer.” Most patients experience rapid relief and are able to maintain or improve their quality of life through a minimally invasive discectomy.
To learn more about annular tears or Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, please do not hesitate to get in touch by calling us directly at 972-255-5588 or by filling out the form on this page. We look forward to speaking with you!