The back reflection x-ray divergent beam technique is examined as a tool for studying elastic strains. In particular, a method of calculating interplanar spacings using a least squares fit of experimental "conic" coordinates to Newman's general equation for back reflection (J. Appl. Cryst. 3 (1970) 191) is described. Using this technique, interplanar spacings can be obtained from partial conies. To determine the precision of this method an unstrained silicon single crystal is studied, and the errors associated with determining its interplanar spacings are discussed. The technique is then applied to elastically strained silicon and the results compared to theoretical predictions. It is shown that strains down to 2 × 10−5 are readily measured on high angle planes in silicon.