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An annular tear is a common degenerative spinal condition that Laser Spine Institute can treat at our St. Louis surgery center

An annular tear affects the exterior wall of a spinal disc, which serves as a cushion between the vertebrae, and is one of the most common conditions that can develop in a spine that is deteriorating. If you’ve been diagnosed with this condition, there are a variety of treatment options that may help you find the relief you are looking for.

What is an annular tear?

Also commonly referred to as a ruptured disc, an annular tear is defined as any rip or tear in the tough exterior wall (annulus fibrosus) of a spinal disc. When a disc ruptures, its gel-like interior (nucleus pulposus) is able to escape into the spinal canal and put pressure on a spinal nerve root or the spinal cord. This can result in the development of a variety of symptoms.

Is it difficult for a physician to identify an annular tear?

The diagnosis process for an annular tear is relatively straightforward. After reviewing your medical records and discussing your medical history with you to identify any pre-existing conditions or genetic predispositions that may increase your risk of developing this condition, your physician will likely perform a physical examination to test your strength, reflexes and flexibility. The final step in diagnosing an annular tear usually involves a medical imaging procedure, such as an MRI or X-ray, to help pinpoint the source of your symptoms.

What causes an annular tear?

As is often the case with degenerative spine conditions, the most common cause of an annular tear is aging. Your spine endures daily wear and tear due to normal movement, and after years of punishment, it can begin to break down. Since the discs in the spine are designed to absorb much of the abuse, they can begin to flatten and lose water content, which makes them brittle and more susceptible to tears. Additionally, a traumatic injury can also lead to a ruptured spinal disc.

What are the symptoms of an annular tear?

While this condition can often be asymptomatic, an annular tear may produce symptoms so severe they can affect your ability to function normally in daily life. Symptoms can include weakness in the arms or legs, localized and radiating pain, numbness and tingling. The location of your symptoms depends on the area of the spine where the damaged disc resides.

Choosing the treatment options for an annular tear

If you’ve been diagnosed with an annular tear, your physician will likely suggest a combination of nonsurgical treatment options that may include over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, hot and cold compresses, rest and strengthening exercises. You can also see if alternative treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic care can help to reduce your symptoms, but you should always consult with your doctor when attempting a new form of treatment.

Can an annular tear be repaired through surgery?

Many patients suffering from annular tear symptoms find the relief they are looking for through a targeted course of conservative and alternative treatments. However, in severe cases involving chronic pain, spine surgery may be an option. At Laser Spine Institute Saint Louis our minimally invasive spine surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back procedures.^

Contact us today for a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you are a candidate for one of our outpatient spine surgeries.