Diagnosing a spinal disc tear

A spinal disc tear can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms it causes can be similar to other conditions. It is also possible to be diagnosed with a torn disc even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms. Both of these situations occur because the symptoms related to a torn disc, also called an annular tear, are usually caused by nerve compression.

Symptoms often result when disc material makes contact with the spinal cord or an adjacent nerve root. This can occur at any level of the spine, and becomes more common among people who are middle-aged or older.

How doctors diagnose a disc tear

Should you begin to experience discomfort that you believe might be related to a disc tear, the first person to see is your primary care doctor. Many cases of neck and back pain are caused by a muscle strain or ligament sprain, both of which will heal over time. However, if pain lasts longer than a few days to a week and is accompanied by symptoms like tingling and numbness in the extremities, it is more likely to be caused by a spine condition like a torn disc.

Here’s how your doctor can attempt to determine the cause of your symptoms:

  • Review of symptoms — questions about location, duration and severity of pain, numbness, tingling or weakness
  • Physical exam — tests range of motion, muscle strength
  • Neurological exam — reflex response testing to determine level of sensory or motor function
  • X-ray — routine imaging to determine cause, severity of condition
  • Additional imaging — MRI, CT scan or myelography can be used to find a more exact location of a compressed nerve

Treating symptoms associated with a disc tear

Depending on the severity of the symptoms associated with a disc tear, doctors will usually first recommend conservative treatment methods like pain medication, exercise, stretching, physical therapy and periods of rest. If chronic pain persists after a full course of conservative treatment, surgery might become an option. In this situation, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how our minimally invasive spine surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine procedures.^

Our dedicated team will you help you get a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.