Annular Tears 101: What Are They & How Do You Get Relief?
Got back pain?
And if so, have you been told that your back pain is being caused by an annular tear to the spinal discs? You’re not alone – studies have shown that the prevalence of disk bulges in the general population is over 70%, even in those who are totally symptom-free! Let’s explore what an annular tear is, why they cause pain, how long they take to heal and the best treatment options.
These tears occur most commonly in the lumbar spine at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 discs, which are the two disks at the very bottom of your low back.
What causes annular tears?
Annular tears are injuries to the intervertebral discs, the cushions that sit between the vertebrae of the spine like a sandwich. Spinal discs act as small shock absorbers and disperse the impact as you move your body throughout the day. Simply speaking, the disc is composed of two parts, the soft center (nucleus) and the thick covering that wraps around it (annulus).
Every segment of your spine moves slightly in each direction – forward (flexion), backward (extension) and side to side (lateral bending and rotation). The combination of every segment moving small amounts gives us our full range of motion.
Discs are pretty tough, but with a combination of strong forces, spinal or pelvic misalignment and the natural processes of aging, small micro tears can happen to the annulus on the outside of your spinal discs, hence the term annular tears. When annular tears happen, it doesn’t mean that all the fluid inside your disc immediately gets push out – the nucleus pulposus is more like rubber than water.
Most often you won’t even notice an annular tear – the majority are totally symptom-free. But once in a while they can result in immobilizing, debilitating pain. Many of my patients have described their back “locking up” when a tear happens, leaving them completely unable to move. That can be really scary, but with proper chiropractic care their pain usually improves to a more manageable level within a few days allowing them to slowly get back to their normal daily activities.
Annular tear treatment
Careful controlled motion actually helps heal your discs after a micro-tear happens. Medications or injections for torn discs are often helpful for reducing the pain, but they don’t really do anything to promote actual healing. That’s why correcting the source of the problem with conservative measures like chiropractic care, light exercise, and sometimes even light traction can be a great way to keep your spine mobile and allow your discs to heal.
If you’re here because of low back pain caused by an annular tear, then you’re in the right place. Looking for a Brookfield chiropractor? We’d love to help you get started with chiropractic care. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.
Ernst CW, Stadnik TW, Peeters E, Breucq C, Osteaux MJ. Prevalence of annular tears and disc herniations on MR images of the cervical spine in symptom free volunteers. Eur J Radiol. 2005 Sep;55(3):409-14.