At some point in life, most adults experience back pain or other pains and discomfort. Sometimes, these pains need just a few weeks or months to heal, but other times, it worsens. Such is the case of an annular tear. So, is annual tear serious? Can annular tears heal on their own? This article deals with this in detail.

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About Annular Tear.

The spinal column in the human body has 33 vertebrae and is divided into 5 segments. In the first 3 segments i.e., cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae, the vertebrae is separated from each other by discs. The 23 discs present serve as cushion to protect the vertebrae; for example, it absorbs shock and it also gives support to the bone structure of the neck and the back. The intervertebral discs are enclosed by a tough outer layer called annular fibrous. With age, the vertebral discs undergo wear and tear and cause health problems. A common problem is the tear in the annulus fibrosus commonly referred to as annular tear. The healing time for annular tear varies from person to person and from time to time.

Is Annular Tear Serious?

An annular tear is a condition wherein the outer firm border of the spinal disc breaks. Since the surface layer of the annulus fibrosus contains lots of highly sensitive nerve fibres, annular tear can be extremely painful. People often worry if annual tear is serious. In fact, annual tear is not considered to be very serious and even the pain is a temporary discomfort. However, it must be noted here that once the disc is injured, it is prone for further injuries and can have early degeneration.

The most common cause of annular tear is simply getting older or aging. It is said that vertebral discs lose their functionality and durability with age, and the weakened annular fibre can start to tear. Excessive strain/ stress on the discs occurring from repetitive activities, such as sitting, and standing, can create excessive pressure results in annular tears. Many studies have found that additional weight can also put strain/stress on the discs and that lead to the annular tear. People who have experienced injuries too can be more prone to annual tear resulting in back pain. Twisting motion can also put small tears in the annual fibre, especially moving too suddenly; performing a high jump or running without warming up. Similarly, automobile accidents can also cause a serious injury that leads to an annular tear.

Symptoms of Annular Tear

An annular tear symptom is often mistaken for a simple lower back or neck pain. If you have minor annular tear you would not have any symptoms, and if you don’t know you have this health problem, you may perform or engage in the activities that make annular tear worse and you leave spinal condition undiagnosed.

Symptoms of annual tear commonly experienced by a patient are listed below.

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  • Chronic low back pain
  • Weakness and tingling in the arms or legs
  • Numbness in the arms or legs
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Loss of sensation in the feet and toes
  • Limited flexibility
  • Numbness and weakness in the neck and shoulder
  • Unable to perform regular activity effortlessly
  • Stiffness and soreness in the joint
  • A feeling of burning in the sciatic nerve
  • Fatigue
  • A constant pain in the lower side of the back
  • A shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, it can be determined whether a particular case of annual tear is serious or not. Other annular tear symptoms can include tingling and pinning sensation and muscle spasms. It often becomes worse when you sneeze, laugh, stretch, wear high heels, stand for a long time, bend and lift things up.

Diagnosing an Annular Tear

If you are experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms that could point towards a possible annual tear affecting the back, it is important to seek medical advice.

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Some of the basic things, on which the evaluation and diagnosis of an annual tear depends include,

Physical Examination. During the physical examination, the doctor checks the person’s neck, shoulder, back, legs, arms, and back. Keep in mind, when you visit a doctor, tell everything that you are experiencing, it is easy for physicians to detect the actual cause.

Medical Review. The medical review is the first step, in which the doctor will collect the medical history of the patient and ask questions to the patient to determine the family history and genetic predisposition of annual tears. The review of medical history will also serve as a way to identify any other problem along with the annual tears.

MRI. An MRI is an excellent way to determine and diagnose annual tears. However, not all annual tears would be diagnosed by the MRI, and so the doctor recommends CT discogram. In this test, a liquid dye is injected into the disc and observed on a CT scan. The most appropriate test is decided by the treating physician, hence it is advisable to follow medical advice.

Can Annular Tear Heal On Its Own?

Another interesting question is, can annual tear heal on its own? Annual tears have such a limited blood supply, so it takes a long duration to heal by their own. For some it may take around 18 months or 2 years. Hence, it is often suggested to take treatment based on the requirement of the patient.

Treatment for an Annual Tear

Generally, many physicians initiate the treatment with a constructive approach. However, if the constructive approaches are not effective, then surgical treatment is important.

Non-Surgical Treatments

Some of the non-surgical treatments for annual tear that helps in its healing are

  • Physical Therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Massage Therapy to improve spinal alignment
  • Stretching to relax the neck and back
  • Anti-inflammation medicines
  • Steroid injection.

Surgical Treatments for Annular Tear.

While 90% of the patients get relief from the conservative method, only 10% patient needs surgery because they have annual tears along with disc herniation. There are highly advanced methods that are in development for example - using a patient’s stem cells to regenerate their annular fibres. Though, the necessity of these advanced technology-based treatments varies from patient to patient.

For a patient who has developed an annular tear, healing time will vary; but in most cases, it can heal with the constructive methods like medication, physical therapy, massage etc. In case, the patient doesn’t recover from pain with the conservation approach and continue to experience pain, then surgery is required.

Prevention and Self-care for Annular Tear

It is essential to reduce the chances of experiencing annular tears by keeping your spine healthy and strong. Strong core muscles are important to provide support for the back and avoid injury. To reduce the symptoms, the following things will help.

  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Maintain proper posture while sitting, sleeping and lifting weight
  • Get enough sleep each day
  • Avoid prolonged sitting
  • Avoid frequent stretching and twisting
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol
  • Take anti-inflammatory diet.

These recommendations are approaches to keep up a strong spine and help combat the normal degeneration that happens. However, if symptoms come up and you suffer from annual tear, medical help and the various available treatment choices can help.

Exercise for Annular Tear

It is important to rest for healing, along with that it is important to be a little active too. Here are some low impact exercises under the guidance of your physicians.

Thus it is clear that annual tears are not a serious condition, if proper care is taken along with timely medical treatment. Preventive measures, exercises and back strengthening activities can help in maintaining the spine structure and preventing the annular fibres from further damage. This will surely help in better healing of annual tears.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 27, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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