An annular tear occurs when the hard exterior (the annulus fibrosus) of an intervertebral disc rips or tears. Since the outer layers of a disc are heavily innervated, this can be an especially painful condition. It can also lead to a herniated disc if the nucleus pulposus (the jellylike center) of a disc seeps through the tear and enters the spinal canal.
The back and neck are always at work, supporting the body as we stand, walk, sit, bend, and stretch. The continued pressure that is placed on intervertebral discs (which serve to cushion the bone structure of the neck and back) can cause degeneration to occur as a person ages. The annulus fibrosus can begin to break down at about the age of 30, when discs also begin to lose some of their water content. Drier, less flexible, and weaker discs become more susceptible to injury, increasing the risk for developing an annular tear.
Traumatic injury can also lead toward the development of an annular tear. This can occur from participation in high-impact sports like football, or from car accidents. Strenuous professions (like automobile repair or mail delivery) can also cause injury to the intervertebral discs since these jobs often require heavy lifting and constant bending.
No matter the cause of an annular tear, the symptoms are typically the same:
The most common complaint associated with this spinal condition is pain, which can vary from moderate to severe. Discomfort may be felt in the neck, back, arms and/or legs depending on the location of the affected disc. Some patients experience no symptoms at all.
Those who believe they may be afflicted with an annular tear should contact their primary care physician or back specialist. Treatment options are available, allowing many patients to return to a pain-free life.
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