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Shooting Back Pain: Is It a Pinched Nerve or a Pulled Muscle?

Ouch! If you’ve grimaced because of shooting back pain, you’ve probably wondered why.  Is it a pinched nerve, or maybe a pulled muscle? 

To diagnose the source of your shooting back pain and find relief, an orthopedist can help. At Premier Spine Institute, in The Woodlands and Humble, Texas, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bonventure Ngu is skilled at diagnosing and treating back pain of all types. 

The difference between a pinched nerve and a pulled muscle 

With 43 primary nerves running through your body, it’s not surprising one can get trapped between bones, tendons, or other body parts. Literally pinched, the nerve sends an onslaught of pain messages to your brain. You might feel a sharp, shooting pain when you stand up or bend over. You may also feel tingling in your legs or arms.

There are many reasons nerves can get pinched, from a sudden injury to repetitive tasks like computer work. Sometimes, it’s due to related back problems such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal).

A pulled muscle is a different type of injury. When you pull a muscle, it’s often due to overexertion. For example, if you move a heavy object or participate in sports, you could pull a muscle by overstretching it and tearing muscle fibers. Often, a pulled muscle will heal if you apply the R.I.C.E method. R.I.C.E. stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. However, it’s always helpful to get it checked out.

Symptoms of a pinched nerve include: 

Symptoms of a pulled muscle include:

Both hurt, but they’re different conditions and are treated differently. 

Diagnosis and treatment

Dr. Ngu performs a thorough evaluation and checks for tenderness, range of motion, and other symptoms. He may recommend imaging studies such as X-rays, CT scans, or an MRI to get to the root of the problem you’re having. 

Treatments for a pinched nerve can include rest, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) like ibuprofen, gentle stretching, or physical therapy. Physical therapy builds strength and improves mobility, while gentle stretching can relieve pain symptoms.

Pulled muscle treatments can include rest and ice, compression with a tight bandage, and physical therapy to strengthen the muscle and relieve pain.

Dr. Ngu also offers epidural steroid injections and other pain relief treatments.

Both a pulled muscle and a pinched nerve can cause shooting back pain, but prompt medical assessment at Premier Spine Institute can uncover the source of your pain, leading to effective treatment. You can make an appointment with Dr. Ngu today by using our online scheduling tool and find the pain relief you need.

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