The back is a complex network supporting the frame of the body. The nerves of the spinal column, the bones of the vertebrae, and the large muscles of the back are all prone to injury, making it difficult to distinguish between disc pain and muscle pain.
Intervertebral discs work as shock absorbers between each vertebrae. Discs are made up of a spongy inner layer and a fibrous outer layer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a herniated disc occurs when the inner material of a disc protrudes through the outer layer. Common symptoms include low back pain, numbness or tingling starting in the rear and radiating down one leg, or numbness or weakness in the chest, neck or arm.
Back muscle strains are common, and moderate strains can cause mild pain and stiffness. More severe strains may cause spasms along with more intense pain and possible swelling. Muscle tears or ruptures cause severe pain, impede the ability to move or walk, and are usually accompanied by swelling and bruising.
Disc injury may occur with no resulting pain. Additionally, other ailments such as sciatica or more serious cardiac conditions share similar symptoms with herniated discs. Always consult your physician for an accurate diagnosis of back pain.
Disc injuries are commonly treated with rest, physical therapy, ultrasound therapy, traction, muscle relaxants, and surgery in severe cases. Muscle strains are usually treated with rest, ice or heat, anti-inflammatory medications, or surgery in some cases of full rupture of the muscles.