Tears of the Annulus | Intervertebral Disc Tear

An intervertebral disc tear occurs when the water content inside the disc decreases to the point where the walls of the discs tear to the points that tears of the annulus occur.

When our spine and growing and as we approach our physical peak around the age of 25, the several layers of fiber that make up the outer portion of our intervertebral discs (spinal discs) are solid and healthy, and the more gel-like pulpy content of the interior part of the disc has enough content keep the disc at its ideal height. Like all other joints of the body, these structures slowly begin to become worn out as we get older. The layers of fibrous rings that comprise our annulus fibrosis, or outer covering of our discs may begin to fray or tear. Over time, the nucleus pulposus, or inner portion of the disc loses its ability to absorb and retain water from the surrounding blood vessels. The overall result of these two changes will be discs that are shorter and more pitted like a raisin, then fully healthy and vibrant, like a grape.

How do these changes to the discs of the back cause us to have back pain. In case you were always wondering why we get shorter as we get older, one of the main reasons is the loss of disc height, related to their loss in ability to absorb and retain water as we get older. Due to this loss of disc height, the discs are no longer able to absorb shock and to distribute pressure away from the vertebrae (vertebral bones) of the spine. Loss of disc height stimulates osteophytes to grow along the surface of the vertebral bodies that are in contact with the discs. Osteophytes, also known as bone spurs, are bony protections that are formed on the surfaces of bone, in the discs and other joints where arthritis changes occur. Though these osteophytes form on the surfaces of bones to prevent further wearing out of the affected bones and to stabilize the overall joints, their formation often accelerates the process of joint degeneration. We may experience pain from osteophyte generation when they come in contact with, or are near, nerve endings involved with sending pain signals to the brain.

We may also experience back pain or low back pain due to an intervertebral disc tear. Intervertebral disc tears occur when the wall of the intervertebral disc (annulus fibrosus) tear all the way from one side to the other. When these outer layers of disc become torn from their interior to exterior edge, the hole produced me become big enough that the gel/fluid mixture begins to ooze out of the disc. These situations may be known as tears of the annulus, or herniated discs. This gel-like material flowing out of the disc may invade the space in the spine occupied by the nerve root. We may experience significant pain when the nerve root is pressed on due to this condition. We usually don' t experience pain as a direct result of degenerative discs disease, because the discs actually don't contain pain receptions (except where they attach to the posterior spinal ligament).

Herniated discs do not always result in pain, if the contents expelled from the tear in the discs do not impact the adjacent nerve roots.