The bones of the spine have to absorb some degree of stress on a regular basis simply from normal daily movements. Spongy discs with a soft, gel-like center and a harder exterior shell ease some of this stress while also minimizing friction between vertebrae. Should the outside part of one of these discs become torn, it’s referred to as an annular tear. Treatment for any of the three types of spinal disc tears discussed below will depend on factors such as the severity of the tear and whether or not nearby nerves are affected.
1. Peripheral Tears
A peripheral annular tear affects the fibers on the outer portion of the disc. Such tears usually happen from some type of sudden trauma. If not treated, peripheral tears may contribute to accelerated disc wear and tear.
2. Radial Tears
A radial annular tear starts at the center of the disc and usually extends to the outer disc layer. If a full radial tear occurs, it can make a disc “herniated,” referring to the protrusion of inner-disc material through the tougher outer part. If a spinal disc is already weakened from age-related wear, it could be more likely to develop a radial tear.
3. Concentric Tears
A concentric tear is contained within the disc. Tears of this nature are usually caused by some type of quick and unexpected trauma, like what might happen from a hard impact while playing contact sports. Annular tears, in general, may contribute to:
• Spinal inflammation
• “Pinched” or compressed spinal nerves
• Disc misalignment
• Spinal stenosis
• Facet joint syndrome
How Are Spinal Disc Tears Treated?
Following a positive diagnosis that may involve an MRI and a discography test, treatment of an annular tear usually includes a comprehensive physical therapy program. With minor tears, conservative care methods that strengthen supporting structures, increase circulation, and promote healing may be all that’s necessary to manage or alleviate symptoms. Treatment possibilities not involving surgery may include:
• Rest for a limited time
• Low-impact exercises or activities (e.g. swimming, cycling/stationary bike use, walking)
• Over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory and pain medications
• Postural exercises or chiropractic adjustments for the same purpose
• Gentle, controlled-movement activities like yoga or water-based exercises
• Injections with an anti-inflammatory medication directly into the affected area
When Is Surgery an Option?
As is the case with any type of disc-related issue, your Los Angeles spine surgeon may recommend surgery for annular tears if conservative treatments aren’t effective after several weeks or months. Procedures that fix the tear or strengthen the disc may be recommended. If the tear has contributed to disc herniation or bulging, minimally invasive surgery may be performed to remove part or all of the disc and restore spinal stability.
Spinal discs typically begin to deteriorate when most people are in their thirties, increasing the risk of developing annular tears later in life, although disc tears can happen at a younger age if trauma to the spine is involved. The risk of experiencing spinal disc tears can be reduced by keeping your spine and its supporting discs as healthy as possible. Your doctor can make specific recommendations, but you can benefit from getting regular exercise to maintain circulation and watching your posture. Since discs naturally lose water content with age, staying hydrated can also be helpful.
If you’re having issues with the discs of your spine, one of the procedures you may want to consider is spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles is home to The Spine Institute, where a trusted team of professional surgeons can diagnose the source of your pain and help you find relief. Call 310-828-7757 today.