All of the body’s organs undergo degenerative changes with age. Intervertebral discs typically desiccate. This causes weakening of the disc’s annulus fibrosis and stiffening of its nucleus pulposus. Aging-related changes increase the likelihood of disc injury, including annular tear.
When the tough exterior ring of an intervertebral disc (called the annulus fibrosus) rips, it is called an annular tear. Tears typically occur along the outer edge of a disc, between the layers of the annulus fibrosus, but can start nearer the center and extend all the way to the outside. Extent and positioning of the tear will typically govern the level of pain experienced,from non-existent to excruciating.
By definition, any condition that causes a part of the body to diminish in function over time is a degenerative change. With the aging process, intervertebral discs desiccate and weaken. The neck and back are responsible for supporting the majority of a person’s weight, making them susceptible to increased wear. A desiccated, aging intervertebral disc may respond by forming an annular tear. An annular tear may also be caused by traumatic injury. Sudden and impactful force,from high-impact sports, for instance, can apply excessive pressure to the annulus fibrosus, causing an intervertebral disc to rip.
Whether an annular tear is caused by the aging process or a sudden injury, several treatment options can provide patients with relief from the pain that is often associated with this condition. Patients should contact their back specialist or primary care physician if an annular tear is suspected.