Annular tears and the natural aging process

An annular tear occurs when the outer layer of a spinal disc — called the annulus fibrosus — develops a rip or tear. This can lead to a herniated disc if inner disc material, called the nucleus pulposus, pushes out through the tear. While there are many contributors to this condition, natural changes that occur to the spinal column due to aging are the most significant.

Aging and disc degeneration

Over time the parts of the spine, especially moving parts like the joints and discs, can weaken and wear down, causing the development of degenerative spine conditions like an annular tear. The discs, which cushion the vertebrae and allow for movement, dry out over time. This makes the outer layer brittle and prone to developing small cracks. These cracks can turn into a larger tear due to the immense amount of pressure the discs are placed under on a day-to-day basis.

While this condition does not always result in symptoms, they may occur if inner disc material pushes into the spinal column and causes nerve compression. Common symptoms associated with an annular tear include pain, numbness, weakness and tingling in the extremities.

Treating an annular tear

While an annular tear often occurs with the natural aging process of the spine, there are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of developing this condition. Making small lifestyle adjustments like losing weight and becoming active can help prevent your discs from becoming damaged. However, sometimes an annular tear cannot be avoided and, in the event that it occurs, will require treatment to relieve your pain and symptoms.

Upon diagnosis of an annular tear your doctor may recommend the following conservative treatments:

  • Exercise
  • Hot/cold therapy
  • Pain medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic care

For many patients, conservative treatment is effective in relieving the pain and symptoms of an annular tear. However, if a disc is severely torn beyond natural repair, surgical treatment may be required to provide lasting relief for this condition.

At Laser Spine Institute our minimally invasive spine surgery is an alternative to traditional procedures, offering our patients a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of complication. Our highly skilled surgeons can access the spine through a less than 1-inch incision, which means they can be performed on an outpatient basis at our state-of-the-art centers across the United States.

To learn more and to receive your no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures, reach out to our dedicated team today.