Annular tears cause pain in proportion to the amount of inflammation resulting from the tear, and, in general, the larger the tear the greater the inflammation. When an annular tear allows the gel-like substance of the disc’s center to seep into the external area surrounding the disc, the condition is known as a disc herniation. Compared to an annular tear, disc herniation further increases the degree of localized pain and inflammation. If the extruded material compresses adjacent nerve rootlets, pain, numbness, tingling and/or weakness could be experienced anywhere along the course of the impacted nerve.
Nerve compression is the true culprit
Symptoms arise when the inner disc gel pushes through a small annular tear and places pressure on a nearby nerve or the spinal cord itself. It is the nerve compression, and not the herniated disc, that is the true cause of the most serious symptoms. When no nerve compression exists, it is entirely possible to have a herniated disc that is completely asymptomatic. In fact, some patients experience multiple herniated discs at different levels of the spine simultaneously without symptoms. However, when a nerve is irritated, the resulting symptoms can be extremely painful.
A small annular tear can sometimes heal on its own. A conservative treatment plan consisting of non-surgical measures can help enhance this natural process and manage the symptoms. Your physician will likely recommend a variety of options, including physical therapy, hot/cold therapy, exercise, chiropractic treatment, massage, pain medications and others. If your symptoms persist or worsen following non-invasive treatment, it could be a sign that additional pathology has occurred.
If you are experiencing pain from a small annular tear, contact Laser Spine Institute today. Our minimally invasive procedures are more effective alternatives to open back surgery and could help you find relief from neck and back pain.