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Understanding Annular Tears in the Intervertebral Disc

Dr Paul McDonough MD

Dr. Paul W. McDonough is a respected presence in the Abilene, Texas, medical community who exclusively focuses on spine procedures. Active with the North American Spine Society, Dr. Paul McDonough strives to help patients understand neck and back problems.

One common type of back injury is an annular disc tear, which involves the intervertebral disc, which acts as a connector of vertebral bones. The discs are composed of a durable outer fiber ring, the annulus fibrosus, with jelly-like nucleus pulposus at the center. The strength of the annulus is essential both in fully containing the nucleus and ensuring that pressure is distributed evenly throughout the disc. This allows it to fulfill its role as a shock-absorbing cushion that supports the full range of daily activities.

When tears that do not cause a rupture occur, they are known as annular tears. These often are extremely painful, particularly when they occur on the outer third of the ring, as there are many pain fibers there. While the tear will heal as scar tissue over time, the annulus tends to become more vulnerable to further injuries and tears. The ultimate result can be premature degeneration of parts of the body such as the endplates, disc, and facet joints.

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