Everyone is likely to experience back pain at least once during their adult lives. Most of us already have. Be it pain from a bad night’s sleep or a fall or injury, anyone whose suffered from back pain can tell you when your back hurts, everything hurts. Unlike with injuries to the extremities, when you’re suffering from back pain there’s no avoiding the pain until the damage finally heals. For most, this happens naturally without needing to call on doctors. When your pain either doesn’t go away or becomes so severe you can’t conduct your daily activities, however, it’s time to reconsider visiting your doctor.
When to see a doctor for back pain
Nearly 70% of Americans experience lower back pain to a degree that affects their day-to-day lives. If your back pain is getting in the way of your daily life, you should contact your local doctors office. In addition, if you experience any of the following back pain symptoms, it’s time to schedule a doctors visit:
- Severe pain that doesn’t improve with rest or medication
- Tingling or numbness
- Pain following an injury or fall
Similarly, if your pain is accompanied by fever, numbness in your lower extremities, weakness, trouble urinating, or weight loss that can’t be explained by a change to your diet, contact a medical clinic for care.
The types of back pain doctors
Many people who struggle with long-term back pain don’t turn to doctors or physical therapists for help. As many as 40% will try to use exercise to alleviate the pain, and while exercise is good for back pain – – despite what your back may try to tell you – – there are times it may not be enough. What’s more: not all exercises are good. It’s best to consult with a physical therapy doctor before beginning any exercise regime. Likewise, you should consult your primary care doctor before starting any medication to treat your pain.
That being said, there are several different types of doctors who can help treat back pain. The first person to see is your primary care physician as he or she can help you determine which specialist is right for you. Here are the most common doctors who treat back pain:
Often times proper exercise is the only treatment needed to cure back pain. By providing a guided and specialized exercise plan for you, physical therapists can help you not only relieve your current pain but alter the behaviors which caused it in the first place.
Sometimes confused with physical therapists, a chiropractor can also prescribe stretches and exercises but this is not their primary role. Chiropractors will provide pain relieving treatments such as spinal manipulation. If your neck or lower back pain is severe, however, it’s better to consult a medical doctor.
Also called physiatrists, these physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors can provide nonsurgical approaches to relieving your pain and starting rehabilitation. A pain specialist is a good place to start. While they don’t do surgery, they may use spinal injections or other techniques to help alleviate your pain. Increasingly common in helping manage back pain are anesthesiologists who work at spine centers or in private practices. Anesthesiologists can offer injections and medications to keep your pain minimal.
If you and your doctors agree surgery is the best route for you, you’ll want to consult with an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon who specializes or has completed a fellowship in spine surgery. The old convention was that if there is significant nerve involvement in your pain, you should see a neurosurgeon, but this is no longer true. Your primary care doctor should be able to help you find a qualified surgeon in your area.
If it’s unclear what treatment option will be best for you, your best bet may be a back center with a variety of specialists on staff. The beauty of visiting a spine center with multiple specialists is you won’t have to worry about experiencing prejudice towards one approach versus any other. The doctors at the center will evaluate you and prescribe whichever treatment is best suited. If possible, choose a back center affiliated with a hospital, even if they don’t share the same campus.