How to Tell if Back Pain Is Muscle or Disc Related?

If you’re suffering from any back pain, you’re probably looking for a solution quickly. The proper remedy for your back pain may be found by identifying the source of the problem. 

It is most common for lower back discomfort to be caused by muscle strain as a result of injury or overuse. Slipped or bulging discs are also possible, which suggests the soft padding between your discs has shifted. 

It is possible that you have a muscle strain if you just feel discomfort in your back. However, if your discomfort spreads to either your arm or leg, you may have a slipped disc.

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What Is the Difference Between Muscle Pain and Disc Pain?

The location of the pain is the most significant variation between these two types of back pain. Lower back discomfort may be due to a slipped disc because your spinal disc is located near the base of your spine. In addition, the sensation of pain will be different for each individual. In contrast to muscle pain, disc pain will be severe and tingling.

You can better convey your symptoms to your doctor if you are aware of the differences before you go in. Fortunately, you can put your faith in your doctors to provide you with the best care possible.

Muscle Pain

The latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, trapezius, and erector spinae make up the bulk of our back muscles. The stability of the shoulders, lower back, and core is provided by all three of these muscles. Because they are all intertwined, the pain can spread throughout your entire body.

Stress on the muscles during exercise results in muscle discomfort. The fibers in your muscles begin to break down during these workouts, resulting in soreness and muscle pain. This indicates that the fibres are actively repairing and strengthening themselves.

On the contrary, pain in your muscles isn’t necessarily a sign that your muscles are repairing and strengthening themselves. The muscle fibers may have been torn as a result of excessive strain on the muscle. They can cause severe joint discomfort and injury if torn suddenly. The shoulders and lower back are particularly vulnerable to this tension.

Soreness following a workout often lasts for a few days. After that, it may be necessary to seek medical attention for a possible strain or serious injury.

Symptoms may include: 

  • Local swelling.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Tenderness when touched.
  • Cramping.
  • Intense or dull pain.
  • Pain with specific movements.
  • Tightness or stiffness in the muscles.
  • Pain relief in resting positions.

Disc Related Pain

Underneath the spine is an elastic-like muscle known as the spinal disc. It’s flat, spherical, and offers a large range of motion in addition to stability. It’s common for discs to move out of place, resulting in severe agony and discomfort. As we get older, our muscles weaken, which might lead to this condition.

If a disc slips, it has the potential to harm nearby nerves, resulting in tingling, numbness, and even paralysis. The back, like the rest of the body, is capable of self-healing. There are many home remedies you can use to alleviate pain, including ice and a heating pad. To avoid nerve damage and long-term discomfort from a probably slipped disc, it is critical to see a back doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms may include: 

  • Lower back pain.
  • Numbness or tingling in your shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs or feet.
  • Neck pain.
  • Problems bending or straightening your back.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Pain in the buttocks, hips or legs if the disc is pressing on the sciatic nerve (sciatica)

How to Know if Your Back Pain Is Muscle or Disc Related?

When determining whether your back pain is from a muscle issue or disc related, you need to pay close attention to the symptoms of each. 

Muscle strains affect muscle or tendon attachments to bone. Overstretched, twisted, or ripped muscle or connective tissue. An overexertion injury. Unfit people sometimes strain when performing sports, lifting, bending, or twisting.

A herniated disc, also called a slipped disc or ruptured disc, is a protrusion in one of the shock-absorbing meniscus discs that separate the back bones (known medically as the vertebrae). Long-term wear and strain cause lumbar herniated discs. The meniscus’ strong outer covering protects the nucleus pulposus. Herniation or rupture occurs when the outer layer tears or splits, allowing the nucleus pulposus to push out. Misshaped discs can move vertebrae. Sciatica is a painful ailment that can cause tingling, numbness, and reduced muscular function if the bones press against the sciatic nerve. A sneeze or cough might trigger back spasms.

How to Treat Back Pain?

Low back pain can be discouraging. Most cases heal themselves over time. You should:

  • Ice your back to reduce pain and swelling
  • Apply heat to your back
  • Take painkillers or other drugs, if recommended by your doctor.
  • Use support.
  • Get physical therapy to build up strength.
  • Maintain good muscle tone in your abdominal and lower back muscles.

Bedrest doesn’t work, despite what many say. People used to think lying on their back was the greatest treatment for lower back discomfort. Studies demonstrate it’s ineffective. After two days of rest, you may begin light physical activity.

If you want to ease the pain of disc related pain, you could try:

  • Gentle exercise 
  • Over-the-counter pain medication 
  • Physical therapy 
  • Using support
  • Specialist surgery

The slipped disc may get better over time on its own. However, in some cases, surgery is needed to correct the damage. 

When to See a Doctor?

In most cases, pain related to muscles and discs will ease in time. If you are experiencing pain that is stopping you from sleeping or hindering your ability to get on with everyday tasks, then you should seek medical attention. 

How Can DrHouse Help You?

Contact an online doctor to find out more about medications, treatments, and recovery. Our online doctors at DrHouse are available around-the-clock during the day, in the evenings, and on weekends, and they can issue rapid medical care and prescriptions. Additionally, they can offer advice on how to recover and how to avoid symptoms getting worse.

Key Takeaways

Pain from both disc and muscle can be distressing, however, there are some differences between them. 

Whether you are experiencing pain in your lower back or you may have a slipped disc it is important for you to seek medical help if your pain is too much to handle or you can’t get along with normal everyday duties. 


Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.

Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.

If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.



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