How to Know if Back Pain is Muscular or Spinal

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Back pain is a common issue many people face in their everyday lives. The back is made up of several different muscles and bones that can cause pain in different areas.

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Back pain is a signal to the rest of the body that there is a problem in one of these areas.

For many, it may be hard to distinguish if the pain is muscular or spinal. Knowing if the pain is muscular or spinal will help your doctor identify the issue so the best treatment can be provided.

Is Muscle Pain More Common Than Spinal Pain?

Muscle pain is more common than spinal pain.

Back pain caused by muscles may fade after a few days. Back pain from sore or stiff muscles will not cause long-term damage to your back, but if the pain proceeds for two weeks or more and causes a disruption in your daily activities, you should consult with a doctor.

Back pain caused by the muscles is more localized in one location and may only hurt when you’re in a specific physical position or when you move in a certain way. If the back pain is severe, then pain may extend to muscles in the buttocks or hips.

What Does Back Muscle Pain Feel Like?

Back muscle pain can feel like a burning or shooting sensation that causes tightness or stiffness. The pain may linger.

Muscle pain can be from an injury or inflammation in the muscles. Too much physical stress on the back from lifting, twisting, or stretching can cause back pain, especially in the lower back.

It can also be caused by putting your back in awkward positions that it’s not used to, or it can be caused by overextending your back while reaching for something.

You may have back soreness from doing yardwork or from lifting objects incorrectly.

Typically, you will know what caused the problem because the pain will be felt almost immediately after the physical action occurred. The pain felt will be aches or tightness in the affected area.

What Are the Different Types of Back Pain?

Common causes of muscle back pain can be caused by strains, localized pain, and inflammation.

Strains: Strained muscles will feel like a soreness or an ache that can cause tightness in the area. A strain is due to the muscle or tendon in the back being overstretched. The overstretching is caused by the muscles and tendons being torn or overextended. This can be done by lifting, stretching, or twisting that can add stress to the lower back, causing the strain.

Duration: Back strains can go away within a few days or a couple of weeks.

Back Spasms: Back spasms can flare up more than muscle strains. Back spasms can flare up in your lower back when muscles and tendons are torn. Spasms can occur when you are playing sports or lifting weights because stress is being placed on your lower back.

Duration: Back spasms tend to last a few days.

Inflammation: Muscle spasms can cause inflammation because of muscles being stretched or torn. It may begin as a muscle strain but can worsen to cause inflammation, especially in the lower back area.

Duration: Inflammation in a back muscle can last longer than three days.

Spinal Pain

Spinal pain is sporadic and is less common compared to muscular pain.

Spinal pain tends to shoot to various parts of the body. Spinal pain and aches can be commonly felt in the legs, glutes, and groin.

The most common form of spinal pain can be injury, arthritis, vertebrae being worn out, facet joints syndrome, herniated disk, bone spurs, osteoarthritis, and spinal infection.

The usual symptom of spinal pain is a continuous ache that can last as long as 11 weeks. This long-lasting pain needs to be checked by a doctor who may tell you to come in for an X-ray, CT scan, bone scan, MRI or EMG test.

Spinal Cord Injury: Injury to the spinal cord can cause damage to the vertebrae, ligaments, disks, or spinal column. Damage to the spinal cord can be from a severe or traumatic blow to the spinal cord that can be caused by fractures, dislocations, or crushes.

Duration: This injury may have long-term recovery.

Arthritis: Is caused by inflammation of the facet joints in the spine or on the sacroiliac joints that occur between the pelvis and spine. It can be caused by wear and tear on the spine, autoimmune disorders, or infection.

Arthritis in the spine is a long-term condition that is difficult to reverse.

Worn Vertebrae: The vertebrae act as a cushion to separate from the spinal discs. As you age the cushion from the spinal discs wears off. This wearing off can cause severe back pain. As the discs wear away, the vertebrae reduce in size causing joint pain because more stress is placed on the joint.

Duration: Vertebrae pain depends on the severity of the problem.

Facet Joint Syndrome: Facet joint syndrome is commonly felt in the lower back caused by the effects of aging. Symptoms of this syndrome can be felt in the back and neck. The pain may feel like continuous burning or weakness felt in the limbs.

Duration: Facet joint syndrome may last two weeks to over a year.

Bone Spurs (Lumbar Osteophytes): Can be the result of the spine going through degenerative changes due to the spinal canal being pinched because of pinched nerves. Sometimes bone spurs are formed by the body to produce damaged bone parts.

Questions and a physical exam by a doctor are usually needed to determine if a person has bone spurs. The doctor may have you undergo an MRI, CT scan, X-ray, or bone scan to see if any extra growth caused by bone spurs is found.

Duration: Bone spurs will not go away until surgery is performed to remove them.

Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis in the spine is caused by joint cartilage breaking down in the neck and lower back area. Osteoarthritis can produce bone spurs putting unwanted pressure on the nerves that leave the spinal column. Osteoarthritis can cause the arm and leg to feel weak.

Duration: Osteoarthritis can have a periodic flare-up episode that last one or two days to over a week.

Spinal Infection (Vertebral Osteomyelitis): Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone that can occur in the lower back, middle back, upper back, base of the spine, and neck. The infection in any of these areas can be caused by bacteria or fungi.

Duration: The duration can either be short-term or long-lasting.

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