Annular tear definition, causes and symptoms

An annular tear occurs when the hard exterior (annulus fibrosus) of a spinal disc becomes weak enough to develop a rip or tear. This is usually due to age-related breakdown. Since the outer layers of a disc have multiple nerve endings, many experience this as a very painful condition. It can also lead to a herniated disc if the soft, gel-like center (nucleus pulposus) of a disc seeps through the tear into the spinal canal.


The neck and back are always at work; supporting the body as we stand, walk, sit, bend and stretch. The discs in our spine are an important part of this; they cushion the vertebrae and joints. But continued pressure on the discs causes degeneration as a person ages. The annulus fibrosus can begin to break down around the age of 30, when discs begin to lose some of their water content. Drier, weaker and less flexible discs are more susceptible to developing an annular tear.

Traumatic injury can also cause an annular tear. This can occur from participation in high-impact sports like football, or from car accidents. If you have a job that requires repetitive or strenuous movements, like automobile repair or mail delivery, you may be at a higher risk to develop a tear as well.


Whether the cause is age or injury related, there are usually similar symptoms reported:

  • Local Pain
  • Radiating pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle Weakness

The pain that is so commonly reported with this condition can range from moderate to severe. Discomfort may be felt in the neck, back, arms and/or legs depending on the location of the affected disc. Some patients experience no symptoms at all.


Those who believe they may have an annular tear should contact their primary care physician or back specialist. Treatment options are available, allowing many patients to find relief from pain.

If weeks or months of conservative treatments like physical therapy or epidural injections have not brought you the pain relief you need for an annular tear, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is a safer and more effective alternative to traditional open back surgery, requiring no lengthy hospital stay and a shorter recovery period.§ For many patients, our minimally invasive decompression surgery will be recommended to relieve moderate pain from nerve compression. For more advanced cases of degeneration in the spine, we may perform a minimally invasive stabilization that is a more precise alternative to traditional fusions.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a review of your MRI report or CT scan to find out if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.