Back Pain: Is It a Muscle Strain or a Disease?

Back Pain: Is It a Muscle Strain or a Disease?

Back pain is one of the most pervasive health problems in the United States. Almost 65 million Americans experience back pain at some point, and 16 million of them suffer with it chronically. 

Dr. Dinash Yanamadula at Princeton Pain & Spine Institute in Lawrenceville and Edgewater, New Jersey, specializes in diagnosing back pain and relieving it with advanced technology and proven treatments that resolve the underlying issues. 

Here, we take a closer look at two of the most common conditions that cause back pain.

Signs you’ve pulled a muscle in your back

Soft tissue injuries in your lower back can affect either your ligaments (called a sprain) or your muscles (called a strain) or both. Both injuries have similar symptoms. When you stretch or tear your muscles or ligaments, your body’s immediate response is to send blood to the area to heal the injury. This, of course, results in inflammation and more pain. 

Compared to other conditions, such as fractures or disease, a muscle strain in your back may seem minor, but the symptoms can feel major. They include:

If you strain a muscle in your back, it feels most intense the moment it happens and hangs on for a few days to several weeks. Certain movements that use the strained muscle cause more intense symptoms. 

Since your hips, buttocks, and hamstrings move in sync with your back muscles, you may feel pain in these areas as well. Most people describe back muscle strain as a dull ache and a tightness in their back. 

Signs you have a back disease

Several diseases can affect your spine and cause back pain. We explore a few of the more common conditions here.


The most common type of arthritis — osteoarthritis — often attacks the facet joints in your spine. The once-smooth and slippery cartilage that lines your bones wears away, and your bones rub against one another. This causes friction, inflammation, joint damage, pain, and even bone spurs. 

Typical symptoms include:

Osteoarthritis pain is usually worse in the morning and subsides as the day progresses.

Spinal stenosis

Your spine is a relatively narrow space that houses countless nerves and blood vessels. With little room to spare, if anything crowds the space — a condition called spinal stenosis — the consequence is often an impinged nerve. If you suffer from spinal stenosis, you may feel:

Surgery is often needed to widen the openings in your spine and allow nerves to pass through freely. 


Your bones regenerate regularly during your youth, constantly building new tissue. But by the time you’re 30, your bone density peaks, and you begin to lose bone tissue faster than you can generate new cells. 

If you didn’t get enough calcium as a kid or you’re genetically predisposed to low-density bone mass, you may get osteoporosis, a condition that weakens your bones and makes them more porous and brittle. Symptoms of osteoporosis include:

Hormones, nutrient deficiency, inactivity, tobacco and alcohol use, and even some medications can put you at risk for osteoporosis.


Although scoliosis typically appears just before puberty or during adolescence, adults can acquire it, too. This condition causes your spine to curve from side to side in an S or C shape. With scoliosis, you’ll notice:

Mild scoliosis may not cause any discomfort, but as it progresses, it may begin to hurt, cause your other body parts to work harder, and affect your lungs and other organs.


Your spine is incredibly sensitive, and the slightest change can cause back pain. One potential problem is the development of lesions or tumors on the spine. Although these tumors may be benign, it’s very common for spinal tumors to develop as a result of lung, prostate, or breast cancer. Typical symptoms of spinal tumors are:

If you have a spinal tumor, you may need chemotherapy or radiation treatment to shrink it or surgery to remove it. 

To find out exactly what’s causing your back pain and determine the best treatment to get rid of it, schedule an appointment at Princeton Pain & Spine Institute today. Call or use our online booking tool. 

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