Annulus fibrosus — overview

A spinal disc is made up of two parts: the annulus fibrosus and the nucleus pulposus. The annulus fibrosus is the outer layer of the disc that surrounds the gel-like nucleus pulposus inside the disc. Made of strong layers of collagen fibers woven together at varying angles, the annulus fibrosus gives structure to the discs, allowing the surrounding vertebrae to bend and twist.

Disc deterioration

Though designed to support the weight of the upper body, with time and age, the annulus fibrosus begins to lose flexibility and elasticity, leaving it vulnerable to damage. A weakened disc can begin to bulge, causing the nucleus pulposus to protrude into the outer layer. In some cases, a bulging disc can turn into a herniated disc, which is when the annulus fibrosus tears or ruptures, causing inner material to protrude into the spinal canal.

In addition to the natural aging process, here are some of the factors that can cause the annulus fibrosus to weaken:

  • Traumatic injuries
  • Repetitive motion from work or sports
  • Bad posture
  • High body mass index
  • Smoking

While disc degeneration cannot be completely avoided, there are steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of a potentially painful condition. Exercising and maintaining a healthy body weight will help ensure your spine is adequately supported and decrease the amount of pressure placed on the discs. Since cigarette smoking decreases the amount of water in the discs, it can actually cause discs to degenerate faster, so if you are a smoker you should discuss a plan to quit with your physician. Finally, maintaining correct posture and using proper body mechanics when lifting, exercising or sleeping can minimize your chances of developing a disc problem.

Treating disc issues

If you have been diagnosed with a herniated disc, bulging disc, degenerative disc disease, facet disease or other condition of the spinal column, the good news is that there are treatment options available. Many patients find meaningful relief and a return to normal activities using conservative therapies such as bed rest, exercise and over-the-counter medication.

However, surgery may become an option when weeks or months of treatment do not bring an improvement in symptoms. Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive, outpatient spine surgery that avoids many of the difficulties that go with traditional open back procedures, such as hospitalization and a long recovery period.

Please contact Laser Spine Institute for your no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a candidate for one of our procedures.