Lower Back Pain: How To Tell If Its Muscle
When a patient visits my office with back pain, its my job to uncover the pain generator. We talk through the patients history, discuss their symptoms, and make a determination as to next steps. If need be, I prepare their case to be looked at by a surgeon, but generally, my goal is to help patients avoid surgery and find relief with more conservative measures.
Most cases of back pain are not caused by serious conditions. But its important to always rule out the possibility that a patient has another internal issue that mimics back pain . Colitis, kidney stones, gallbladder issues, vascular problems, or an aneurysm are examples of serious conditions that are capable of causing pain to radiate into the back, making it feel like youre experiencing back pain.
A thorough fact-finding investigation should help determine the cause. When did the pain start? How long did it last? What makes it better or worse? Key to determining the pain generator is the patients description of their condition and their medical history. For example, if a patient describes the pain as having come on suddenly and causing nausea, nearly prompting a trip to the emergency room, then disappearing just as suddenly, they may be suffering from a kidney stone rather than back pain from a spinal condition.
- Muscle pain
- Disc pain
Lets take a look at each type in more detail.
What Is The Outlook
Most of us will have a bout of nonspecific low back pain at some point in our lives. The severity can vary. However, it is difficult to quote exact figures as to outlook . This is partly because it is so common and many people with back pain do not consult a doctor. Roughly, it is thought that:
- Most nonspecific back pains ease and go quickly, usually within a few weeks.
- In about 4 in 10 cases, the pain has completely gone within four weeks.
- In about 7 in 10 cases the pain has completely gone within one year.
However, once the pain has eased or gone it is common to have further bouts of pain from time to time in the future. Also, it is common to have minor pains on and off for quite some time after an initial bad bout of pain. In a small number of cases the pain persists for several months or longer. This is called chronic back pain.
When & How To Seek Medical Care
If low back pain lasts for longer than one to two weeks, seek medical care. First, make an appointment with your primary care physician.
Seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms are present in addition to back pain:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Unexplained fever
- Loss of control of your bowels or bladder
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What Causes Upper Back Pain
Upper back pain is usually caused by soft tissue injuries, such as sprains or strains, or muscle tension caused by poor posture or looking downward for long periods.
Poor posture and text neck can combine to wreck your upper back. Common behaviors and activities that can cause upper back pain include:
- Poor posture
- Spinal stenosis
- Cancers that affect the spine
Dont let that long list of potential, serious conditions alarm you too much. In younger patients and when I say young, I mean people up to their mid-60s its most commonly a strain, Dr. Knight says.
Is It A Pinched Nerve Or Pulled Muscle In The Lower Back
A pulled muscle occurs when you tear or overstretch some of the muscle fibers. This can happen if you overwork the muscle or twist it too hard. You will probably notice pain and swelling, and the area will be tender to the touch. You may even notice redness or bruising.
A pinched nerve, or nerve compression, happens when pressure in an area causes the nerve impulses to become partially blocked. You may experience a radiating, burning pain in the affected area.
While a pulled muscle in your lower back could potentially cause a pinched nerve, this can also be caused by a herniated disc in your spine. If you feel radiant pain that extends into your legs, see a doctor right away.
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Medical Conditions That Cause Back Pain
Conditions that can cause back pain include:
- a slipped disc this can cause back pain and numbness, tingling and weakness in other parts of the body
- sciatica this can cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet
- ankylosing spondylitis this causes pain and stiffness that’s usually worse in the morning and improves with movement
- spondylolisthesis this can cause lower back pain and stiffness, as well as numbness and a tingling sensation
These conditions are treated differently to non-specific back pain.
Very rarely, back pain can be a sign of a serious problem such as:
- a broken bone in the spine
- an infection
- cauda equina syndrome
- some types of cancer, such as multiple myeloma
If you see a GP with back pain, they’ll look for signs of these.
Page last reviewed: 14 January 2020 Next review due: 14 January 2023
What Are The Signs Of A Back Injury
Signs you may have injured your back include:
- pain or tenderness
- pain that worsens with movement, coughing, sneezing or laughing
- stiffness or difficulty moving
- pain that radiates down one or both legs
It is important to find out the cause of your symptoms so they can be treated properly.
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The Risks Of Having A Herniated Disc
A herniated disc is often the result of aging and known as disc degeneration. With age, the disc becomes less flexible.
Lifting heavy objects improperly can cause a herniated disc. Other risk factors include weight and genetics. Excess body weight causes more stress on the discs. And genetics can predispose one to develop a herniated disc.
How To Tell If Your Lower Back Pain Is Muscle
by Dr. Don DuffAug 20, 2019
The low back is a fairly complicated structure, so its no wonder the majority of peopleexperts estimate up to 80% of usexperience pain in this area of our bodies at some point in our lives. In fact, back pain is one of the most common reasons for visits to the doctors office.
The key to relieving back pain is understanding the cause. But diagnosing the of a patients pain isnt always a straightforward exercise. It could be muscle, joint, or disc-related in some cases, it may even arise from issues unrelated to the back. So how can you tell if your back pain is muscle- or disc-related, or attributable to something else entirely? Well cover all the possibilities in this post.
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Forward Head And Neck
If youre wondering what muscles cause neck pain, these are some of the culprits. Forward head posture and shoulders rounded forward are common signs of this set of muscle imbalances.
For every inch your head moves forward out of alignment from your shoulders, your neck effectively carries an additional ten pounds of weight. Forward head and neck postural dysfunction is a frequent cause of neck and upper back pain, not to mention headaches, shoulder pain and more.
What Are The Symptoms Of Back And Neck Pain
Symptoms linked to back pain may include:
- Dull, burning, or sharp pain in your back. The pain can be limited to a single spot or cover a large area.
- Leg numbness or tingling above or below your knee
- Stiffness or aching that occurs anywhere along your spine from your neck to your tailbone
- Sharp, shooting pain that spreads fromyour low back to your buttocks, down the back of your thigh, and into your calf and toes
- Consistent ache in the middle or lower part of your back, especially after standing or sitting for a long period
Loss of bladder and bowel control with weakness in both legs are symptoms of a serious condition that needs medical attention right away.
Symptoms linked to neck pain can be:
- Arm numbness or tingling
- Shoulder pain
- Sharp shooting pain or a dull ache in your neck
Pain that occurs suddenly in your back or neck from an injury is acute pain. Acute pain comes on quickly and may leave sooner than chronic back or neck pain. This type of pain should not last more than 6 weeks.
Pain that may come on quickly or slowly and lingers for 3 months or more is chronic pain. Chronic pain is less common than acute pain.
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Key Points About Back And Neck Pain
- Back and neck problems range from minor aches to severe, disabling pain.
- Often, the reason for your pain can’t be found.
- See a healthcare provider if you have numbness or tingling, severe pain that does not improve with medicine and rest, trouble urinating, weakness, pain, or numbness in your legs, fever, unintentional weight loss, or pain after a fall.
- Often, back and neck pain will improve over time. See your healthcare provider if your pain is not decreasing.
- Use prevention strategies to keep yourself healthy and injury-free.
- For severe, disabling, or chronic back pain, consider an individualized rehabilitation program.
Keep Low Back Pain From Becoming A Long
For many people, their back pain keeps coming back. But thereâs a lot you can do to lower your odds of it returning. And if it does, these tips can make it less severe:
Donât slouch. Your spine should be neutral when youâre sitting or standing. A neutral spine is in a straight line from your head to tailbone without being exaggerated. Over-curving your lower back can make it hurt.
Exercise regularly. It can make your back, abdomen, and hamstrings stronger. That helps keep your back pain-free. Aim for a mix of cardio exercise like walking or biking, strengthening exercises , and stretching.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight strains your lower back. It can also add to joint problems that can cause pain there.
Be careful when picking up heavy objects. Always lift from your knees, not your lower back. Your stomach muscles should be pulled in and your head should be in line with your back, rather than pushed forward or arched backward.
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How To Tell If Back Pain Is Muscle Or Disk
- Post author
Pain that is related to a pulled muscle, ligament strain, or disc damage, can be anywhere up and down your back, but it tends to be around the lower spine (a.k.a. Back pain paired with inability to control the bowels or bladder might be a sign of serious nerve compression or a spine infection, such as discitis or meningitis.
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Can I Prevent Neck And Back Pain
The following may help to prevent back and neck pain:
- Practice correct lifting techniques. Don’t lift heavy items. When you do lift something, bend your legs, keep your back straight, and then slowly lift your body and the object.
- Wear a seat belt in motor vehicles in case of a collision.
- Use telephones, computers, and other equipment correctly.
- Maintain correct posture while sitting, standing, and sleeping.
- Exercise regularly. Learn back-strengthening exercises to keep your back and belly muscles strong. Warm up with stretching exercises before doing exercises.
- Do exercises that improve your balance.
- Don’t smoke.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
- Reduce emotional stress that may cause muscle tension.
- Get enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet.
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When To See A Healthcare Provider
If your muscle pain is worsening or persistent, it’s important to promptly see your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis.
It’s also important to seek immediate medical attention if you have muscle pain along with any of the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Muscle weakness in the head or neck
How Is Back Pain Diagnosed
Most people who develop low back pain that comes on suddenly have nonspecific low back pain. If there are no other associated symptoms and the pain is not too bad, many people are confident to just ‘get on with it’ and treat it themselves – and indeed most get better quickly. However, if in doubt, see your doctor for a check-over and advice.
A doctor will usually want to ask questions about your symptoms and to examine you. Basically, the symptoms are usually as described above, with no other worrying symptoms to suggest anything serious or another cause of back pain . The examination by a doctor will not detect anything to suggest a more serious cause of back pain. Therefore, a doctor can usually be confident from his or her assessment that you have nonspecific back pain.
As a general guide, if any of the following occur then it may not be nonspecific low back pain, and there may be a more serious underlying cause. But note: the vast majority of people with low back pain do not have any of the following symptoms or features. They are included here for completeness and as an aid to what to look out for and to tell your doctor should they occur.
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How Common Is Lower Back Pain
Around four out of five people have lower back pain at some point in their lives. Its one of the most common reasons people visit healthcare providers.
Some people are more likely to have lower back pain than others. Risk factors for lower back pain include:
- Age: People over 30 have more back pain. Disks wear away with age. As the disks weaken and wear down, pain and stiffness can result.
- Weight: People who are obese or carry extra weight are more likely to have back pain. Excess weight puts pressure on joints and disks.
- Overall health: Weakened abdominal muscles cant support the spine, which can lead to back strains and sprains. People who smoke, drink alcohol excessively or live a sedentary lifestyle have a higher risk of back pain.
- Occupation and lifestyle: Jobs and activities that require heavy lifting or bending can increase the risk of a back injury.
- Structural problems: Severe back pain can result from conditions, such as scoliosis, that change spine alignment.
- Disease: People who have a family history of osteoarthritis, certain types of cancer and other disease have a higher risk of low back pain.
- Mental health: Back pain can result from depression and anxiety.
You Can Apply Cold And Hot Packs To Your Back For Pain Relief Whether Your Pain Is Caused By A Muscle Strain Or A Disc
How do i know if back pain is muscle or disc. Muscle strains, on the other hand, can occur in any part of the body. Cold packs help relieve pain and swelling in the days after your pain starts. It could be due to a hernia in the lumbar or lower spine, a muscle tear, or a stretched ligament.
Muscle pain can be the result of a sprain, strain, or bruise. Find out how to spot red flags that can indicate a serious condition. It usually occurs at a single point.
Pain going up and down the arms can be a sign of a deviated disc in the neck, while pain in the legs can indicate a deviated disc in the lower back. Muscle issues are a common source of spine pain, and one potential treatment option for these issues is a muscle relaxer. Most of the time, back muscle pain is diagnosed then treated with little more than a prescription of rest, painkillers and muscle relaxants.
Give yourself time to heal unfortunately, too many people with back pain either dont allow their bodies time to heal, or they begin a treatment plan, but stop once they begin. Increased back pain when repetitively bending or with prolonged sitting See the 4 best infrared heating pads for back pain.
A common reason for axil pain may be muscle strains. Pain primarily relegated to the lower back area. Many patients with lower back pain want to know if they have herniated a disc, or if their pain is merely a lower back strain.
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Low Back Pain Fact Sheet
If you have had lower back pain, you are not alone. Back pain is one of most common reasons people see a doctor or miss days at work. Even school-age children can have back pain.
Back pain can range in intensity from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp or shooting pain. It can begin suddenly as a result of an accident or by lifting something heavy, or it can develop over time as we age. Getting too little exercise followed by a strenuous workout also can cause back pain.
There are two types of back pain:
- Acute, or short-term back pain lasts a few days to a few weeks. Most low back pain is acute. It tends to resolve on its own within a few days with self-care and there is no residual loss of function. In some cases a few months are required for the symptoms to disappear.
- Chronic back pain is defined as pain that continues for 12 weeks or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute low back pain has been treated. About 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year. Even if pain persists, it does not always mean there is a medically serious underlying cause or one that can be easily identified and treated. In some cases, treatment successfully relieves chronic low back pain, but in other cases pain continues despite medical and surgical treatment.