Annulus fibrosus overview
The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae. In between each of these vertebrae are spinal discs. Each disc has a tough outer wall, the annulus fibrosus, which surrounds a soft interior called the nucleus pulposus. Composed of water, collagen and protein, the annulus fibrosus supports the nucleus and helps distribute pressure evenly across the spinal disc.
It also attaches the disc to the surrounding bones with its fibrocartilage. The collagen and fibrocartilage are woven together into a flexible, yet strong, structure that acts as a shock absorber for the various forces placed on our neck and back every day.
Issues affecting the annulus fibrous
Like every other area of our body, our spinal discs begin to show signs of wear and tear as we age. Eventually, this wear and tear may lead to a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. During the course of this disease, the nucleus pulposus begins to lose fluid content, which reduces the disc’s ability to cushion our vertebrae, especially in the lumbar (lower) and cervical (upper) regions.
The annulus fibrosus can develop a rip or tear, known as an annular tear, which can cause the nucleus pulposus to push out into the spinal column. This is generally diagnosed as a herniated disc. A weakened annulus fibrosus can also result in a bulging disc, which is when the annulus stays intact but extends beyond its normal boundary. Symptoms of a herniated or bulging disc can include pain in the spinal column, as well as pain, numbness, tingling and weakness along the affected limbs.
In addition to causing a herniated or bulging disc, degenerative disc disease can also lead to thinning of the discs, eventually forcing the surrounding vertebrae to move closer together. As the spacing between the vertebrae narrows, there can be compression on nearby nerve roots, which can lead to severe pain.
Treatment for disc conditions
If you believe the pain you’re experiencing is due to degenerative disc disease, a bulging disc or a ruptured disc, contact your doctor. He or she can determine the cause of your pain and recommend treatments to reduce your discomfort. Treatment generally begins conservatively and may include options like medication, physical therapy and exercise. To learn what exercises might be beneficial, review our degenerative disc disease exercises.
In some cases, you may require surgery to remove disc matter and relieve pressure on spinal nerves. Before agreeing to a highly invasive traditional open neck or back procedure, consider the minimally invasive spine surgery performed at Laser Spine Institute. With no lengthy recovery and lower risk of complication than traditional open back surgery,^ our decompression, and in more severe cases, stabilization procedures, offer our patients a streamlined outpatient experience.