Back pain is incredibly common.

How do you know whether the pain you’re feeling is common back pain or something much worse like a herniated or ruptured disk?

Here are two specific things to be on the lookout for:

Location, Location, Location

Herniated disks are most common in your lower back. If the pain is in your mid-back or higher, it still may be a herniated disk, but it’s much less likely.

Affected by Movement

Herniated disks tend to cause you more pain when you’re active and less pain when you’re at rest. Note that “activity” here doesn’t necessarily mean being hard at work. It could be something as simple as coughing or sneezing.

If you still aren’t sure, it is time to consult your doctor.

This one is a no-brainer. No amount of self diagnosis can take the place of consulting with your doctor to be sure. A physical examination, supported by some additional tests is the best way to pinpoint the source of the pain. This will either confirm or rule out a herniated disk as the cause.


Where additional tests are concerned, your doctor may order either an MRI, a CAT Scan, or a Myelogram to confirm that the pain you’re feeling stems from a herniated disk.

An MRI creates a detailed 3D image of your spine and the surrounding tissues and is probably the best way to determine not only what’s causing your back pain, but which specific nerves are being impacted.

A CAT Scan is essentially the process of taking X-rays from several different angles then combining them to create a composite image which will give you and your doctor a detailed look at your spine.

A Myelogram is a test that relies on a dye injected into your spinal fluid, combined with an X-ray to locate the specific point where your spine is experiencing pressure.

Whichever test your doctor orders, you and he or she will be able to get to the bottom of what’s causing your back pain in short order.