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An annular tear is a common occurrence in the population, and many people may be suffering from them without evening knowing. In one study done on 30 patients participating in a free MRI-screening program, the investigation determined that 73 percent of patients were suffering from a bulging disc, 37 percent had multiple annular tears, and 94 percent had annular tears that were evident after MRI contrast studies were conducted. [1] Annular tears are mostly seen in the cervical spine of the neck and as you can see, you probably have at least one too at this very moment. 

These annular tears are usually caused by two underlying mechanisms: degenerative changes of the spine or mechanical injuries. Studies indicate that the older we get, the more likely we are to have these annular tears but like the previous study has indicated, for the most part, we will be symptom-free. As we age, however, these tears can become more bothersome and can start to affect our quality of life. 

You can start suspecting that you are suffering from an annular tear when you begin to notice pain in your neck or back as well as weakness in your arms and legs. As the bulge grows, you may even start to notice neural changes such as numbness and tingling. It may resolve on its own but the more trauma put on the spinal column, the more likely you may suffer from these symptoms. 

Treatment begins by determining the location and total extent of the damage of annular tears. This is best visualized using an MRI scan to determine where the herniations are most pronounced. Therapy then is dependent on the symptoms felt by the patient. For simple pain management, painkillers in the NSAID category like Aspirin or Tylenol are the most effective at neutralizing pain flair-ups. If the herniation is not very large, rest without strenuous exercise would be the most likely way to help your back heal itself. More intensive therapies include surgical interventions like disectomies. This is a procedure where a surgeon will remove some of the herniation to try to reduce the discomfort felt by the patient. This is the normal operation done but success rates are not always impressive. [2] Newer imaging studies have allowed physicians to even try cortisone shots to try to numb any pain in the spinal nerves. 

Three exercises that have been proposed to help patients cope with their annular tears focus on trying to limit the amount of inflammation on the muscle while also increasing the disc space between the disc and the nerve-endings: 

  • The first exercise is called the standing knee to chest pose. It requires patients to balance on one leg while pulling one knee as close to their chest as possible. This will reduce the tension on the spinal canal and should be repeated a few times throughout the day. 
  • Routine neck bending exercises throughout the day will also help loosen neck musculature in order to prevent annular tears. 
  • The last exercise that could be helpful would be any type of water exercise whenever possible. Studies confirm that water exercises are the perfect environment for patients suffering from spinal degeneration because water provides less stress on the joints compared to traditional exercises. [3]

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