What is an Annular Tear? And Can a Car Accident Be the Cause?

person in pain from an annular tear caused by a car accident
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An annular tear is an injury to one of the discs that make up a person’s spine. When there is a tear to the outer layer of one of these spinal discs, the gelatin-like contents inside the disc leak out. The fluid that is still inside the disc moves to the place where the disc is weakened, causing the disc to balloon or protrude. This is known as a bulging disc.

If the pressure from the damaged disc becomes extreme, the disc’s outer layer may rip fully open. This will release all the fluid inside the disc into the vertebrae’s space. This type of injury is commonly known as a ruptured or herniated disc.

Injuries like an annular tear can come from gradual wear to the spine and aging. But spinal injuries can also be the result of trauma, like that of a car accident. For example, if someone’s head hits the windshield, the impact’s force can be too much for a healthy disc to absorb and an annular tear injury can be the result.

Understanding the Spine and an Annular Tear

The spine is the bony support for the body’s trunk. It is made up of individual bones, called vertebrae, which are stacked on top of one another to create the spinal column. At the center of this stack is a protective canal that houses the spinal cord.

All the nerve activity that takes place between the brain and the rest of the body happens through a central relay, the spinal cord. And at each level of the spine, a nerve branches out to stimulate specific groups of muscles and skin sensations.

There are ligaments and muscles surrounding the spinal column. Between each of the spine’s bones or vertebrae, are discs that work with the surrounding ligaments and muscles to make the spine move. The discs also absorb the spine’s daily bounces and bumps, and the pressure of sitting for long periods of time.

These rubbery, cushioning discs are made up of between 70 to 80 percent liquid until roughly age 30. After that, the discs begin to age and dehydrate. Just like with dry skin, the discs become more prone to cracking. Likewise, an injury like an annular tear resulting from a car accident can speed up dehydration.

A tear to the outer layer of a disc, known as the annulus, can result in part of a disc becoming out of place from its usual spot between the vertebrae. This is what is referred to as a slipped, ruptured, or herniated disc.

An annular tear causes fluid to leak from the damaged disc, causing an inflammatory reaction from the body that can be extremely painful. If the damaged disc comes into contact with a nerve, pain can travel along that nerve to other parts of the body. This can lead to resulting pain or weakness in an arm or leg, for example, or to the possibility of extreme nerve pain if the damaged disc contacts a nerve with enough pressure to cause the nerve to become pinched.

image of discs in spine to show where an annular tear can be
Image by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

Constantly trying to heal itself, the body produces many cells to help remove the damaged disc debris. But because the injury itself involves inflammation and contact with the nervous system, the pain can be unbearable.

Diagnosing an Annular Tear

Occurring most often in the lower back or lumbar region of the spine, an annular tear typically happens from the center of a damaged disc outward, toward its edge. Initially, the annular tear might be minor and not cause much pain. A tear that grows will cause extreme pain once the leaking fluid from the tear reaches the spinal nerves.

A minor annular tear may at first be unnoticeable and may heal on its own if given a couple of months’ time. This minor annular tear can grow into something more if the injured person’s day-to-day activities somehow manage to make it worse.

Immediate medical attention following any car accident is crucial because of this.

Severe annular tears will show more obvious symptoms. When the disc starts to bulge or rupture, there will be extreme pain and discomfort, with tingling or numbness in the arms or legs as well. Any suspected injury to the spine needs to be checked by a doctor.
Most likely, the doctor will order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computerized tomography) scan to confirm the presence of any injury. The doctor will also do a physical exam to further diagnose any suspected injuries and to figure out treatment options.

Treatment Options For an Annular Tear Injury

Annular tears can take a long time to heal. Most doctors start with a conservative approach. They often prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve the pressure on the spine and the damaged disc. The doctor might also provide a steroid injection to help ease the pain. Other treatments might involve chiropractor visits, spinal traction, or physical therapy.

If the conservative approach does not help, surgery might become necessary. A laser surgical procedure can seal off an annular tear and prevent further problems. Or a surgical procedure known as a microdiscectomy might be needed, especially if there are loose disc fragments with the injury.

During a microdiscectomy, the doctor removes fragments and repairs the damaged disc. However, if the disc is too damaged to repair, an artificial disc replacement surgery might become necessary. With this surgery, the damaged disc is completely removed and replaced with an artificial one.

Other surgical options might include spinal fusion or using stem cells to regenerate the damaged annular fibers. 

Each of these treatment options come at an expensive price for the victim. Those who caused the accident and were at fault need to be held responsible. They need to provide fair compensation for the costs of the injured’s treatment and healing.

Recovering the Costs of an Annular Tear Injury

Because of the major physical impact car accidents can have on those involved, getting medical help is a must. But that medical treatment can also be expensive, both in terms of money and time. Dealing with the recovery can be its own challenge. Worrying about how to pay for it all can take a further toll on your wallet, and on your healing.

person grabbing back in pain from car accident
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Working with an experienced personal injury law firm can ensure fair compensation for their claim from whoever was at fault. An experienced attorney will help calculate the compensation needed by reviewing medical reports, gathering financial data, figuring out a dollar amount that is fair for the victim’s pain and suffering, and more.

A car accident attorney will seek compensatory damages, including both economic and non-economic damages. Working with experienced personal injury attorneys like Hipskind & McAninch provides you with peace of mind, allowing you to focus fully on healing and recovery.


Personal Injury, Serious Injuries


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