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Annular Tear Vs. Herniated Disc

About This Blog:

  • Patients who’ve been diagnosed with an annular disc tear often wonder if they’re suffering from a herniated disc.
  • While these two conditions share many similarities, they are different from one another.
  • In this blog, Dr. Mark Giovanini of NeuroMicroSpine explains the differences between an annular disc tear and a herniated disc. He also takes the time to discuss annular tear treatment options.

Last year, we wrote a blog that covered the causes and symptoms associated with an annular disc tear, which can be read in the “News” section on our website: (http://www.neuromicrospine.com/news/annular-tear-causes-and-symptoms). To understand the difference between an annular disc tear and a herniated disc, you must first understand the anatomy of an intervertebral disc.

Intervertebral discs are located in between vertebrae and they act as primary joints connecting the spinal bones together. These discs have a tough exterior called the annulus fibrosus that protects the soft inner center, which is referred to as the nucleus pulposus. It’s important to note the intervertebral discs help the spine bend and twist, and help support upper body weight and muscle activity.

When a herniated disc occurs, degeneration from aging or trauma causes the affected intervertebral disc to herniate or rupture, thus irritating nearby nerves and causing immense pain. Before this herniation happens, though, a small tear may form on the outer layers of the annulus fibrosus. This is called an annular disc tear, and it is caused by similar herniated disc-related risk factors, such as degeneration or injury.

The beginning stages of an annular disc tear may cause little to no symptoms depending on the patient and its lack of progression. However, if the tear isn’t treated or managed by a physician, it will get worse. Patients with an annular disc tear that is becoming a herniated disc may experience the following symptoms:

  • Moderate to severe chronic pain
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Tingling or numbness

Annular tear treatment options depend on the severity of the tear itself and what caused it. If a patient developed an annular disc tear from a traumatic injury and he or she is still relatively young and healthy, the annular disc tear may heal on its own without treatment. Still, there is no “guaranteed” method for treating annular disc tears. Unfortunately, they can go unnoticed and become herniated discs before minimally invasive or interventional treatment options can be considered.

Initially, over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen may help reduce swelling and pain associated with an annular disc tear. Physical therapy, diet, and exercise may also come in handy to help strengthen bones, stabilize muscles and joints, and retain fluid in the spine.

If the pain worsens, steroid injections may help reduce your pain and inflammation levels for a longer period of time. Because these conditions are caused by degeneration of the spine, they are likely to worsen over time even with conservative measures. If that’s the case, you may want to consider minimally invasive spine surgery to repair any existing damage. Common procedures that are performed for herniated discs include a microdecompression or discectomy and fusion.

For more information on minimally invasive spine surgery or to make an appointment with Dr. Giovanini, please call (850) 934-7545 or visit http://www.neuromicrospine.com/request-appointment.

We hope to see you soon!

The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.