What is a central annular tear in the lumbar spine?

An annular tear is a rip that has developed in the outer wall of a spinal disc. Annular tears most often affect individuals over the age of 50 due to the natural deterioration that occurs after the spine has endured many years of wear and tear. While disc tears can occur anywhere in the spine, a lumbar annular tear (occurring in the lower back area) is most common due to the high percentage of the body’s weight that this portion of the spine must support. Annular tears can lead to painful symptoms if the inner contents of the disc push through the opening and come into contact with the spinal cord or a nerve root.

Central annular tears

If you’ve been diagnosed with a lumbar annular tear that the doctor classified as “central,” you’re likely curious what that description means. While many annular tears occur on the front or sides of a disc and can impact nerve roots in the spinal canal, a “central” annular tear is a rip in the back of the disc — the area closest to the spinal cord — making direct compression of the spinal cord a possibility. When the spinal cord is pinched by a damaged disc in the lumbar spine, symptoms can include:

  • Localized pain caused by inflammation
  • Burning pain that radiates to the hips, buttocks, legs or feet
  • Tingling or numbness in the legs and feet
  • Weakness in the legs and/or feet that causes a limp
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control that may be accompanied by severe pain and weakness that makes walking or getting out of a chair difficult (these symptoms require emergency treatment)

Treatment for a lumbar annular tear

If you are dealing with the symptoms of a lumbar annular tear, your doctor will likely suggest that you attempt a combination of conservative treatments that are designed to reduce your pain and inflammation. Options may include physical therapy, steroid injections and over-the-counter medications. You may also want to incorporate alternative treatments such as massage therapy, Pilates, restorative yoga and chiropractic care, though you should consult with your doctor before attempting any type of treatment.

If your symptoms don’t respond to conservative and alternative treatments, Laser Spine Institute can provide a free MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery. Our board-certified surgeons+ have performed more than 100,000 outpatient procedures that are designed to require no lengthy recovery.^

If you would like additional information about our minimally invasive approach to lumbar annular tear treatment, contact Spine Institute today.