A lot of people ask us “How do I know if my back pain is muscle or spine? How can I tell the difference between the two?”

What an excellent question!

The truth is that it’s often hard to distinguish between the two types of pain—or, more accurately, what part of your back is causing it.

Answering the question “How do I know if my back pain is muscle or spine?” is a bit trickier than you might realize. To give you a proper answer, we have to take a closer look at how your body reacts to injuries or damage to your back muscles, spinal nerves, or the spine itself.

How Do I Know if My Back Pain is Muscle or Spine?

It’s important that you realize that back pain can be complicated. Though it typically originated in one spot—with a specific type of damage or injury—the pain can spread or change according to your body’s reaction.

Why is that?

Simple: it’s all about your natural inflammatory response.

When you sustain injuries, your body is designed to trigger inflammation (swelling) around the injured area. Swelling is sort of a means of protecting from further damage—by solidifying the muscle and tissue around the damaged site, it prevents additional movement that could increase the injury.

Most types of back injuries are accompanied by swelling, which gives you that stiff, painful feeling in your back. Acute back pain will usually dissipate after a few days (or weeks, if the injury is really bad) once your body makes repairs to the injury site. Chronic back pain is often caused by chronic inflammation brought on by more serious damage to your muscle, spine, or nerves.

There are different spinal components that can cause pain:

Spinal nerves that branch out from your spinal canal, connecting your brain to your legs and other body parts

Intervertebral discs, which serve as shock-absorbers between your spinal bones

The vertebrae, which can sustain damage from a direct impact or trauma

Large muscles that serve to support your spine and facilitate movement

Facet joints that connect your spinal bones

All of these components can sustain injury, and when they do, your body triggers swelling around the damaged area to protect it. This can make the underlying source of the pain harder to identify, because the swelling usually becomes the greatest source of pain.

Typically, you’ll need a doctor to give you a proper diagnosis to pinpoint the exact source of the back pain. A chiropractor may be able to locate the injury or damage, or a doctor may use an X-ray or MRI to confirm the cause.

However, understanding the types of pain can help you to narrow down the source, potentially making it possible for you to know what’s causing the pain—whether a spinal problem, muscular problem, nerve problem, or some other problem source.

Spinal nerve pain. The type of pain caused by your spinal nerves will typically be “shooting”, which means it starts in your lower back but kind of shoots down into your glutes and the backs of your legs. The pain may feel like a burning sensation, or an “electric” type of pain. You may feel an ache in your groin that is caused by the compression of nerves in your lower back. Weakness in your leg accompanied by any of these types of pains could be a sign that there is something affecting the spinal nerves.

Spinal muscle pain. Spinal muscle pain is usually one you can feel coming on, typically after you over-exert your lower back muscles. The pain is more localized, and you can usually feel the source of pain pretty clearly. There may be a tightness in your back muscles or a sharp pain if you tear muscle fiber. This is typically accompanied by greater swelling and stiffness as your body attempts to repair the damaged muscle fibers.

Spinal bone pain. This is a type of pain you will usually immediately recognize because it typically follows a direct impact to your spine. Spinal bones are very sturdy, and it takes a direct impact—from a collision, a blow, or a fall—to crack or damage the bone. The sharp pain is very acute, and you’ll find that it’s not a sensation you’ll miss.

When you’re going to see your doctor for treatment or diagnosis, make sure to pay attention to the initial pain sensation you experienced, as well as the pain you’ve felt in the hours or days since. The pain descriptions—radiating, shooting, burning, electric, dull, achy, etc.—can help them to pinpoint the source of the problem and address whatever underlying issue is causing your pain.

How Do I Know if My Back Pain is Muscle or Spine? Clear Up Both Pains With the Back on Track System

Your back is incredibly important—if it’s not functioning optimally, you’ll find that any movement is limited or painful. That’s why we’ve created the Back on Track System to help you address underlying issues and take steps to improve your back health from the ground up.

Back on Track will open your eyes about a dangerous and often ignored syndrome that is behind so many people’s back pain. You’ll learn what’s causing the pain, how you can address it, and a one-of-a-kind breathing technique that will revolutionize your life. It’s a life-changing course that will help you learn everything you need to know to take your back health to the next level. You’ll never ask “How do I know if my back pain is muscle or spine?” again because, with the Back on Track system, you’ve got an excellent shot at eliminating your back pain once and for all!