The intervertebral disk is part of the joint between each of the bones, or vertebra, of the spine. The intervertebral disks cushion the joints and allow them to move correctly. They have a tough, fibrous outer layer and a gel-like inner layer. An annular tear occurs when degeneration or injury causes the outer layer to tear. This is typically painful because there are nerves within the outer layer that are irritated by the exposure to the material in the inner layer.
The main symptom of annular tear is back or neck pain. This pain can be worse when sitting than standing. The pain can worsen after coughing, sneezing, bending forward, or lifting. People with annular tears may also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms and/or legs. Sometimes, a person with an annular tear experiences no symptoms at all.
Your doctor will carry out a physical exam to try to determine the source of your pain. He is likely to order an MRI to be able to visualize the tear. Sometimes annular tears cannot be seen on MRI results. In this case, the doctor may carry out a discography, a procedure in which dye is injected into the intervertebral disk to determine if it is damaged.
Degeneration (breakdown) of intervertebral disk due to normal aging processes
Traumatic injury, usually due to high-impact sports or motor vehicle accident
Treatment options & care
Cold, then hot compresses