How to Tell If Back Pain is Muscle or Disc Related?  

How to Tell If Back Pain is Muscle or Disc Related?  

What are the differences between a slipped disc and a pulled muscle?

It is a question that can make you scared when you get the first sign of back pain. A minor strain here and there is normal if you are an active athlete. However, minor discomfort that progresses to chronic back pain is a red flag!

Back pain

Luckily, pulled muscles are not uncommon and can be managed with proper care and caution. A herniated disc is also treatable if the condition is not too severe.

So, how will you know the cause of that constant back pain? Keep reading to find out the answer. In this guide, we will talk about the following:

  • What is Muscle Strain?
    • Symptoms of Muscle Strain
  • What is a Slipped Disc?
    • Symptoms of Slipped Disc
  • Does Muscle Strain or Disc Slip Cause Back Pain?
  • How to Tell Whether Back Pain is Due to Muscle Strain vs. Herniated Disc?
  • How to Cure Back Pain Issues Due to Muscle or Disc Problems?
  • Back Pain Due to Muscle Strain
    • Posture
    • Lifestyle Changes
  • Back Pain Due to Slip Disc
    • Rest & Move
    • Meditation
    • Therapy
  • Conclusion

What is Muscle Strain?

Humans have fibrous tissues in their bodies that join muscles to bones and are called tendons. Consequently, a muscle strain is an injury to the tendon or muscles. A minor abrasion results in a slight stretching of the affected area, whereas a severe injury can result in minor or significant tears.

Back strain

A pulled muscle is most common in the lower back and thighs due to a high chance of bending and moving. However, if you have ever pulled a muscle, you know that treating a minor injury is not that difficult.

Symptoms of Muscle Strain

According to research, the symptoms of a muscle strain include:

  • Pain in the area
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Muscle weakness[1]

What is a Slipped Disc? 

The disc is a soft cushion of tissues between your bones in the spine. These help the vertebrae keep the spine upright and aid in movement. But sometimes, these tissues push out due to old age or other medical reasons, which causes a slipped disc or a herniated disc. [2]

Though the slip can occur in any part of the spine, it’s most common in the lower back. If the condition is minor, a prolapsed disc won’t show any symptoms and will improve with time. But, in rare cases, surgery becomes imperative.

Symptoms of Slipped disc

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Problems in movement and bending
  • Muscle weakness

Does Muscle Strain or Disc Slip Cause Back Pain?

If you constantly suffer from back pain, muscle or disc issues can be the cause. Herniated discs and muscle strain may differ, but both have a common symptom: back pain. Since the back supports the body’s weight and most movements, it’s prone to injuries and pain.

Slipped disc

Studies reveal that lumbar muscle strain is the most common cause of back pain due to constant twisting and bending.[3]

If you are a gym junkie or do aggressive exercises, you must’ve felt lower back pain after a session. Usually, this happens when the muscle gets abnormally stretched or torn. That is why athletes get muscle injuries so often.

Herniated discs also cause back pain as the disc is located in the spine. Because it is located in the same area, it is not surprising that a slipped disc is a cause of lower back pain. So, undoubtedly, any disc injury will affect it.

 If the herniated disc pushes on your nerves, it will cause severe pain. The neck and lower back are the most commonly affected areas of the spine by the slip. So, back pain is common in patients who suffer from a slipped disc. Here’s a list of symptoms to help you tell Tell the difference between a strained muscle and a hernia disc:  isc:Here’s a list of symptoms to help you tell the difference between a strained muscle and a herniated disc:

Knowing the location of the pain is important. A strained muscle affects the joints, while the herniated disc injures the soft tissues in the spine. So, let’s suppose you have muscle pain in the thighs. It most likely won’t be caused by a slipping disc, as the location is away from the spine.

  • If you face pain in the center of the lower back and feel discomfort while moving or bending, this will likely be due to a slip or herniated disc. So, we can say that the differences are minor, but keen observation can help you.
  • If these seem too complex, you can always get evaluated by a physician. They will swiftly diagnose the reasons for lumbar pain.

Here are some additional symptoms of Strained muscle vs. herniated disc that will help you to differentiate between the two;

Pulled Muscle in the Lumbar

  • Lower back pain that may go to the buttocks but not to the legs
  • Muscle spasms in the affected area
  • Stiffness in the lower back area
  • Pain gets better when you bend forward or when the muscle relaxes

Herniated Disc

  • Pain that travels to one leg
  • If you feel pain in a particular movement or bends but are fine otherwise, it’s likely due to a disc slip in that area.
  • A sense of numbness, burning, or tingling sensation, especially around the spine.

How to Cure Back Pain Issues Due to Muscle or Disc Problems?

Herniated discs and muscle strain are two different conditions that can be treated with care and lifestyle changes. In severe cases, intervention might be necessary, but proper awareness and caution are often enough.

Back pain

If you suffer from any of these painful conditions, then here are some tried-and-tested cures depending on the severity of the issue.

Back Pain Due to Muscle Strain

  • Posture

Many back problems, including a pulled muscle, are caused by poor posture. You will develop many posture-related problems or muscle strain if you constantly bend or hunchback.

Sit upright and follow proper posture when exercising and doing physical activities to fix it. 

  • Lifestyle Changes

Heavy and unsafe lifting and pulling  can affect the muscles. Try to make a few changes in your daily life, like yoga and stretching, to gain flexibility.

Excess weight can also result in pulled muscles, so eat in a calorie deficit and engage in light exercises and other activities to maintain a healthy weight. 

Prevention is better than cure, especially for a pulled muscle. The pain might make you regret the extra 5 pounds added to the dumbbells. Therefore, caution is vital.

You can participate in sports and exercises, but remember to take it slow and not overtire your body. 

Back Pain Due to Slip Disc

  1. Rest and Move

Contrary to popular belief, a herniated disc doesn’t require constant rest and sleep.

Constantly lying in one position can wear down the body and cause other issues. So, if the herniated disc is not severe, keep yourself active and take time for walks and other activities. 

Slipped disc
  1. Medication

Many medications are available to suppress the discomfort if you suffer from sciatic nerve pain. Research reveals that painkillers and muscle relaxants help deal with it.    [4]

Here’s a list of OTC medications for herniated discs:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs 
  • Acetaminophen (paracetamol)
  1. Therapy 

People with painful slipped discs can go for therapy to treat and lessen the discomfort.

Massages and other muscle-relaxing methods can significantly improve the condition. Additionally, hot baths and icing the area can also significantly decrease pain.

You can follow the SUPMOGO Blog to get scientific ways of pain relief.


Hopefully, you will now be clear about the difference between a slipped disc and a pulled muscle. These are two common causes of back pain, especially in the lower region.

Though pulled muscles are common conditions for athletes and sportspeople, a herniated disc can happen to anyone.

[1] Järvinen, T. A., Kääriäinen, M., Järvinen, M., & Kalimo, H. (2000). Muscle strain injuries Rheumatology Today, 12(2), pp. 155-161.

[2] Banerjee, I., Salih, T., Ramachandraiah, H., Erlandsson, J., Pettersson, T., Araújo, A. C., … & Russom, A. (2017). Slipdisc: a versatile sample preparation platform for point of care diagnostics. RSC advances, 7(56), 35048-35054.

[3] Cholewicki, J., & McGill, S. M. (1996). Mechanical stability of the in vivo lumbar spine: implications for injury and chronic low back pain. Clinical biomechanics, 11(1), 1-15.[4] Jacobs, W. C., Arts, M. P., van Tulder, M. W., Rubinstein, S. M., van Middelkoop, M., Ostelo, R. W., … & Peul, W. C. (2012). Surgical techniques for sciatica due to herniated disc, a systematic review. European Spine Journal, 21(11), 2232-2251.