Annular tear — definition and causes

An annular tear is one of the most common degenerative spine conditions that develop with the natural aging process of the spine. In fact, many people over the age of 50 have an annular tear and never know it.

Understanding what an annular tear is and the causes of this condition can help you avoid certain lifestyle choices that may increase your risk of developing an annular tear or other similar degenerative spine conditions.

Definition of an annular tear

An annular tear is a common side effect of the natural deterioration of the spine. The discs in the spine rest between the vertebrae, acting as shock absorbers to cushion the vertebrae and joints as the spine jostles and moves throughout the day. In order to maintain their proper support and shape, the discs are made of a thick inner gel and a tough, elastic outer layer.

As time goes on and the spine undergoes pressure from weight gain and stress, the discs can become pressed and squeezed between the vertebrae, pushing the inner disc fluid against the elastic outer layer. A healthy disc will hold the proper position under pressure by allowing the elastic outer layer to push in the inner disc fluid and hold it in place. However, after years of pressure and stretching, the elasticity in the outer layer may dissolve, allowing the inner disc fluid to form small rips and tears in the outer layer. This is called an annular tear.

Causes of an annular tear

Many times, an annular tear is caused by the natural deterioration of the spine, as mentioned above. This involves slow pressure and gradual tearing of the disc.

Other times, an annular tear is caused by a more sudden condition, such as:

  • Injury
  • Infection
  • Trauma

An example of an annular tear caused by an injury would be a football player developing an annular tear after a hard tackle. Imagine the body getting tackled — the spine is hit forcefully and often does a severe snapping motion or bending motion to absorb the hit. As the vertebrae bend suddenly and forcefully, the disc in between the vertebrae can break, unable to withstand the pressure from the hit. This is an annular tear (or herniated disc) caused by a sudden injury or trauma. A similar situation could involve an auto accident, a fall or any type of impact-related injury.

For more information about an annular tear, the causes and the treatment options available to you, contact our spine care experts at Laser Spine Institute. We are here to make sure you have the information you need to make an informed decision about your spine care.