Annular tear causes and symptoms

An annular tear describes a tear in the tough outer layer of a disc in the spine. This tear can occur with the natural breakdown of the spine over time or from a sudden injury or trauma.

Many people develop an annular tear at some point in life. However, it is usually small and does not change the integrity of the disc in the spine. Because the disc doesn’t change or move, the nearby nerves in the spinal canal are not touched, and therefore the condition goes unnoticed. People only recognize that a spine condition has developed when it presses against a nearby nerve and results in chronic pain and symptoms.

If you experience pain in the neck or back for several days, schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause of your pain. Your physician can diagnose your annular tear through a series of physical exams, questions about your symptoms and medical imaging (MRI or CT scan). This information will help your doctor recommend the best course of treatment for your needs.

Causes of an annular tear

An annular tear is often caused by two things: degeneration of the spine and injury. While the natural aging process of the spine is most often the cause of an annular tear, sometimes a sudden injury can cause the outer layer of the disc to tear and cause pain.

Understanding the causes of an annular tear can help you recognize the symptoms and possibly prevent some of the associated risk factors. The causes include:

  • Aging — Due to the continued stress and pressure placed on discs in the spine, they break down over time. By age 30, a person’s discs have begun to weaken and dry out, making the discs susceptible to an annular tear. Additionally, years of weight gain can add unnecessary pressure to the discs and cause the elasticity in the outer layer of the disc to eventually stretch and tear.
  • Traumatic injury — Injuries to neck and back discs can be sustained while participating in high-impact sports (hockey, gymnastics, football, etc.). Automobile accidents can also cause a traumatic injury that leads to an annular tear. Excessive force, no matter the cause, can lead to injury of the tough outer layer of the disc.

Symptoms of an annular tear

An annular tear has multiple symptoms, including:

  • Pain at the site of the damaged disc
  • Pain, weakness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Burning sensation
  • Numbness in arms or legs

These symptoms can be treated with conservative treatment or with the minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute. Our spine care specialists can review your MRI or CT scan and determine the best treatment option for your pain relief.