Torn discs, also referred to as herniated, ruptured or bulging discs, occur because of a tear in the annulus fibrosus, or outer wall of the disc. Annular tears can result from years of wear and tear as well as natural degeneration, otherwise known as degenerative disc disease. When an annular tear forms, the outer wall of the disc is torn. This allows the inner jelly-like material or nucleus to spill out of its normal space and affect surrounding structures. This nucleic material is an irritant to other soft tissues. If severely herniated, this nucleic material may press on nearby nerves causing a number of neurological symptoms.
The severity of tears in the disc may vary, so patients with torn discs may or may not experience symptoms. However, in most cases patients seeking treatment for pain, numbness, tingling, soreness or weakness often do so because of a problematic disc herniation. In effect, it is rare that someone not have some form of tear in the disc. Many patients do not know that they have a tear of the intervertebral discs until it causes pain and requires treatment.
Here is more information on the types of tears affecting the discs in the spine:
- Typically caused due to injury, concentric tears affect the disc by creating separation in the lamellae or membrane layers protecting the disc.
- Peripheral tears, while similar in orientation to concentric tears, occur on the outside of the disc and are not limited to separation of membrane layers. They are frequently known to cause disc degeneration.
- Spanning the height of the disc and extending from the center outward, radial tears occur naturally with aging. They are the most common cause of disc herniation in patients.