Muscle Strain or Something More?

Our patients often come in complaining of strained muscles, or pain and stiffness that just doesn’t seem to go away with time. These complaints are usually aggravated by certain motions or movements, and sometimes the muscle spasms are enough to keep them flat in bed for days.

The common misconception here is that these problems are primarily related to a pulled muscle in our back. This is often not the case, if symptoms don’t improve fairly quickly. A strained muscle will usually resolve within about 2 weeks with proper rest. When the pain and stiffness stick around, it is more likely due to an injury of a joint or disc of the spine. While we often feel the strain in our muscles and ligaments, which are tightening and bracing to support an injured joint, the injury itself can be much more severe than a pulled muscle. Spinal discs are made of a thick, fibrous material with a liquid center (think donut shaped with a squishy center) that allows for movement between the vertebrae. The fibrous outside of the disc can become damaged or thin over time, causing a bulging or herniation of the liquid center. This puts pressure on the other structures of the spine, such as the nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels, which can send pain down the spine, into the buttock, and even down the leg.

spinal cord

The pressure of a bulging disc causes constant compression of the nerves that control the muscles supporting that area of the spine. This can cause the muscles to be constantly tightened and braced around the joint. When these muscles are bracing the joint, they can’t also effectively allow our bodies to move with normal range of motion and strength. Especially with long standing disc conditions, these muscles can become fatigued more easily and allow the joint to slip, further injuring the disc.

It is important to distinguish early on if the injury is in the muscle or the disc, so it can be treated quickly and appropriately to prevent further damage. Treatment options for this condition range based on the severity of the injury and whether it is an acute or chronic injury. At Burkhart & Chapp Chiropractic, we offer several therapies that have been able to improve spinal muscle and joint injuries, of which the most effective is called spinal decompression. Spinal decompression therapy is a non-surgical approach that gently lengthens the spine and restores nutrient and blood flow to the discs, and creates space between the vertebrae for the discs to slide back into correct placement. Once the disc has been restored, stretches, exercises, and other chiropractic care can be used to strengthen the muscles of the back, offering increased stability and reduced spasming and tightness. This non-operative procedure is highly effective and has been shown to have success rates as high as 90% (2-3). Spinal decompression therapy is a great option for many that would otherwise have to rely on narcotic pain relief or risky spinal operations. To schedule a consultation, call 616.698.0046.


  1. Cooley JR, Walker BF, M Ardakani E, Kjaer P, Jensen TS, Hebert JJ. Relationships between paraspinal muscle morphology and neurocompressive conditions of the lumbar spine: a systematic review with meta-analysis. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2018;19(1):351. Published 2018 Sep 27. doi:10.1186/s12891-018-2266-5
  2. Henry L. (2017) Non-surgical spinal decompression an effective physiotherapy modality for neck and back pain. J Nov Physiother Phys Rehabil 4(3): 062-065. DOI:
  3. Burkhart, T, Blumke, Z, Daley, K, Sorensen, L, & Hunt, T. (2015). Measured success: Evaluating the effectiveness of spinal decompression therapy. Chiro Eco. Mar 4.