How can you tell the difference between a lower back muscle strain and a herniated disc?

Doctor's Answers 1

Thanks for your question. This is very important as often people are diagnosed with muscular back pain and turn out to have a disc problem and vice versa.

The reason is that is can be very difficult to differentiate the different causes of back pain as there can often be quite an overlap. In situations with a disc or nerve problem, the lower back muscles can become tight and go into spasm. Equally, with a muscle pull in the back, there can be pain shooting I tot he legs etc.

Symptoms to look out for are

  1. Pain predominantly with movement (could be more muscular)
  2. A change in bladder or bowel habits or numbness, tingling and pain shooting into a limb (could be more disc/nerve related)
  3. If there is night pain (could be bone related)

I hope this helps and perhaps if you have further concerns then getting assessed would be a good idea.


Dr Dinesh

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