Annular tear symptoms can occur when the annulus fibrosus (the tough exterior) of an intervertebral disc rips, causing inflammation. The outer layers of the annulus fibrosus near the vertebral endplates are filled with nerve fibers that are very sensitive to pain. These nerves tend to respond very strongly when in contact with the nucleus pulposus, causing many patients to experience pain and a number of other symptoms with an annular tear.
Since the outer margin of the annulus fibrosus is extremely innervated, patients with an annular tear can feel a great deal of pain. When a tear extends from the center of the disc to its outer layer, the nucleus pulposus can spill to the outside of the disc. This condition is called a herniated disc and can be especially painful. Other symptoms associated with a herniated disc include:
- Weakness in the arms and/or legs (depending on the location of the affected disc)
While some patients experience any, or all, of the above annular tear symptoms, others are completely asymptomatic. This can leave some patients completely unaware of their spinal condition.
Most annular tears are caused by the natural aging process. Since the neck and back are responsible for bearing most of a person’s bodyweight, they are susceptible to a great deal of wear over time. By the age of 30, most people’s intervertebral discs have begun to degenerate to a certain degree. This degeneration can lead to annular tears since the annulus fibrosus is in a weakened state. Traumatic injury can also cause an annular tear. This is typically seen in those who participate in high-impact sports such as gymnastics and football and in people with strenuous occupations.
Those experiencing annular tear symptoms should contact their primary care physician for information regarding the diagnosis and treatment of their spinal condition. Though the pain associated with an annular tear can be quite debilitating for some patients, several treatment options are available.