An annular tear and its corresponding pain can be quite debilitating for some patients. The annulus fibrosis fibrosus (the tough exterior of an intervertebral disc) is highly innervated. An annular tear can cause inflammation that could result in localized disc pain. However, when inflammation from the injury spreads to adjacent nerve roots, it can also cause numbness, weakness and pain in the neck, back and extremities. In order to treat these uncomfortable symptoms, a physician must first accurately diagnose the symptom as coming from an annular tear and not some other pathology.
Diagnosing an annular tear
Pain is usually the driving factor that causes a patient to seek treatment for a spinal condition. The following tests are typically performed in order to diagnose an annular tear:
- Physical assessment – A physician usually tests a patient’s strength and reflexes to determine the extent of his or her injury. This is especially important since an annular tear in the lower back can lead to other conditions, such as sciatica.
- MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to present a detailed image of the neck and back. This imaging technique doesn’t always show an annular tear, however, so some physicians could utilize other tests.
- Discography – This method is generally the most effective way to diagnose an annular tear. Dye is injected into the intervertebral disc, giving the physician a clear view of any injury that may be present. Discography is not routinely used because dye injection into an already inflamed disc is quite uncomfortable.
Once a diagnosis is formed, a physician can determine the proper treatment. Treatment typically begins with conservative therapies such as pain medications, bed rest and hot and cold compresses. Some patients respond to these treatments quickly while others require weeks and sometimes months of care.
Be sure to consult a physician or specialist when experiencing what could be annular tear pain. A proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment can allow many patients to manage their pain and live a fully active lifestyle.