How To Tell If Back Pain Is Muscle Or Disc


December 27, 2023

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Back pain is one of the most common health issues affecting people worldwide. Back pain can range from mild discomfort to debilitating pain. If your back pain is severe enough, it can limit your ability to work, exercise, and even perform simple tasks like bending down or lifting objects. It can even affect your ability to get a good night’s rest.

While back pain can have various causes, two of the most common are muscle-related and disc-related issues. Distinguishing between the two is crucial in finding targeted relief and preventing further complications. 

Disc Pain Vs. Muscle Pain – What Sets Them Apart?

The back is made up of a complex network of muscles that support the spine and help with movement. If these muscles are strained or injured, it can result in muscle-related back pain. On the other hand, discs are soft tissues located between the vertebrae in the spine. These discs are essentially shock absorbers and allow for flexibility and movement. If a disc is damaged or herniated, it can lead to disc-related back pain.

Although both types of back pain can be debilitating, they have distinct characteristics. Knowing the difference between muscle and disc pain is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. Treating a muscle-related backache with medications or physical therapy might not be effective for disc-related pain and vice versa. Failure to address the underlying cause can even lead to more severe conditions like herniated discs or nerve damage.

Factors To Identify The Cause Of Back Pain

There are a variety of factors that differentiate muscle pain from disc pain. Understanding these factors can help you better identify what’s causing your back pain and seek appropriate treatment. Some of these factors include the following.


Muscle pain is usually localized to specific muscles or areas of the back, while disc-related pain can radiate to other parts of the body, such as the legs and buttocks. This difference in location can give clues on whether your pain is caused by muscle issues or a problem with the spinal discs.

Nature Of Pain

Muscle pain is often described by patients as a dull, achy sensation that can worsen with movement or certain activities. On the other hand, disc-related pain can vary in nature but may include sharp, shooting, or burning sensations. Being able to identify the difference in the type and intensity of pain can help determine the underlying cause.


Muscle pain is often caused by overexertion or strain, and the onset can be sudden. For example, you may feel muscle pain after lifting heavy objects or performing strenuous exercise. However, it usually resolves within a few days or weeks with rest and proper care. On the other hand, disc-related pain may develop gradually and persist for months or even years if left untreated.

Range Of Motion

Both muscle pain and disc-related pain can limit your range of motion. With muscle pain, you may feel stiffness or tightness in the affected area, making it challenging to move or perform certain activities. In contrast, disc-related pain may only allow for limited movements due to severe shooting pain or numbness.

Associated Symptoms

When it comes to muscle pain, you may experience discomfort only in the back muscles. However, disc-related pain can cause additional symptoms due to nerve compression or inflammation. These symptoms may include:

Causes Of Pain

Muscle pain is often the result of overexertion or strain from activities like heavy lifting, poor posture, or repetitive movements. For example, sitting at a desk for long periods without proper ergonomics can strain the back muscles and cause discomfort. Another common cause of muscle pain is sudden movements, such as twisting or bending, that can strain or pull the back muscles. This can happen while lifting weights or playing sports.

On the other hand, disc problems can be caused by various factors. One of the most common causes is age-related wear and tear on the spinal discs. As you age, the discs lose their cushioning and become more susceptible to damage. This damage can lead to bulging or herniated discs, where the soft inner portion of the disc protrudes through the outer layer. These conditions can also be caused by spinal injury or trauma that can be caused by many different incidents, such as a fall or a car accident. Finally, spinal stenosis can also result in disc-related back pain. This condition occurs when the spinal canal narrows and puts pressure on your nerves.

While the associated symptoms mentioned above can serve as general indicators for identifying whether your back pain is disc-related or muscle-related, it is crucial to speak with a medical professional to get an accurate diagnosis. Every individual’s case is unique, and what may be true for one person may not apply to another.

When To Seek Medical Care

Because of how common back pain is, many people tend to brush it off or try to self-treat at home. However, there are certain symptoms that should prompt you to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment. These include:

  • Chronic or severe back pain that does not improve with rest or home remedies
  • Pain accompanied by other symptoms like numbness, weakness, or difficulty walking
  • Back pain after an injury or accident
  • Pain that interferes with daily activities and your quality of life
  • Any sudden changes in bowel or bladder function

Immediate medical attention is vital for proper diagnosis and treatment of back pain. Delayed or incorrect treatment may lead to worsening symptoms, chronic pain, and potential complications. A healthcare professional can give you personalized guidance on managing your specific condition and preventing further damage.

Diagnosing The Exact Cause 

Diagnosing the exact cause of your back pain can be challenging, but there are several methods that healthcare professionals may use to determine the source of your pain. These include:

  • Physical examinations: Your doctor may perform a physical exam to check for muscle tenderness, range of motion, and nerve function.
  • Imaging tests: X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans can help identify any structural abnormalities in the spine, such as bulging discs or fractures.
  • Nerve studies: Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCS) can evaluate nerve function and detect any damage or compression.
  • Blood tests: In some cases, blood tests may be done to check for underlying conditions that could be causing back pain, such as infections or inflammatory disorders.
  • Medical history: Your medical history and any previous injuries or health conditions can also provide valuable insights into the cause of your back pain. 


Neurofunctional Pain Management For Muscle Or Disc-Related Back Pain 

At Relatyv, we specialize in Neurofunctional Pain Management techniques for both muscle and disc-related back pain. Our treatments target the neurological factors contributing to your pain, allowing us to address the root cause rather than masking the symptoms. 

Our whole-person treatment protocol avoids the use of potentially risky medications or invasive procedures. Instead, we use drug-free, non-chiropractic, non-surgical, and non-invasive treatments to provide safe and effective pain management. The treatment modalities we offer as part of our Relatyv protocol for managing back pain are electroanalgesia, IV nutrition therapy, and lifestyle counseling.

Relieve Back Pain From Muscle Or Disc Issues

Whether your back pain is caused by muscle strain or disc problems, you should seek medical attention to get the issue properly diagnosed so that you can receive effective treatment. With the help of our Neurofunctional Pain Management techniques, you can find relief from your back pain without relying on risky medications or invasive procedures. Our whole-person approach focuses on addressing the root cause of your pain to provide effective pain management and improve your overall quality of life. Don’t let back pain hold you back any longer – seek proper treatment and find lasting relief with Relatyv.

About the Author

Will is a healthcare executive, innovator, entrepreneur, inventor, and writer with a wide range of experience in the medical field. Will has multiple degrees in a wide range of subjects that give depth to his capability as an entrepreneur and capacity to operate as an innovative healthcare executive.

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