Common Causes of Annular Tears — Aging

One of the most common causes of annular tears is something that can’t be avoided: the natural aging process. As we grow older, the anatomical elements in our necks and backs naturally begin to deteriorate as a result of normal wear and tear. While this degeneration can conceivably happen anywhere along the spine, it is most commonly seen in the cervical spine (in the neck) and the lumbar spine (in the lower back). That’s because these two segments of the spine are the most flexible and also support the most body weight. The combination of mobility and weight strain tend to accelerate deterioration, which can cause the onset of degenerative spine conditions like annular tears.

The makeup of the spine

The spinal column contains several anatomical elements that work in conjunction with one another to provide the strength and flexibility we expect from our necks and backs. Vertebrae are connected by vertebral joints; ligaments, muscles and tendons support the spinal column, and intervertebral discs act like shock absorbers that cushion and separate the vertebral bodies. The trouble with the aging process is that, over time, these components can succumb to natural deterioration, which explains the loss of mobility and the aches and pains most of us associate with getting older. Specifically the:

  • Outer wall (or “annulus fibrosus”) of an intervertebral disc develops painful lesions called “annular tears”
  • Vertebral facet joints lose their smooth cartilage coating and become arthritic
  • Muscles weaken
  • Ligaments calcify and thicken
  • Bone spurs form
  • Vertebral bodies slide out of position

Effective treatment

So, how do you treat annular tears that develop as a result of aging, since you obviously can’t turn back the clock? The answer has less to do with “curing” the problem and more to do with managing the symptoms and maintaining or improving spinal flexibility. In most cases, an aching annular tear can be effectively treated with a regimen of conservative, non-surgical techniques like the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and low-impact exercises. If, however, this approach does not deliver acceptable results, a minimally invasive procedure from Laser Spine Institute might be an excellent solution. To learn how we can use our state-of-the-art, outpatient procedures to address annular tears and other degenerative spine changes, contact us today.