Back pain is sometimes nothing more than minor aches that will go away with a little rest and some home remedies. However, when over-the-counter painkillers, anti-inflammatory meds, and the application of heat or ice aren’t working, or your discomfort is getting worse, it’s time to see a doctor. Because of the complex nature of spine pain, it’s important to choose the right doctor when you want a better idea of what’s causing your pain and what can be done about it.
1. Primary Care Physicians (PCPs)
The first doctor most patients will see is their primary care physician. While this is usually a family doctor, it may also be a pediatrician, geriatric specialist, or chiropractor, depending on what type of care you require on a regular basis.
PCPs are usually good at treating spine pain due to muscle strain or some other type of minor discomfort that has suddenly become distracting enough for you to see a doctor. They can order image tests and possibly make an initial diagnosis based on your symptoms and medical history, but treatment options are often limited to:
- Prescription pain and anti-inflammatory medications
- RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
- Exercise recommendations or other types of physical therapy
2. Spine Specialists
If your primary care physician suspects a specific spine condition, he or she may refer you to a minimally invasive spine surgeon. Beverly Hills spine specialists have advanced knowledge of the various issues that affect the spine and its related discs, soft tissues, and nerves. Spine specialists typically include orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons and may also include other specialists such as rheumatologists (for arthritis-based spine pain).
These doctors typically have access to the resources necessary to make a more accurate diagnosis and offer treatment options like electrotherapy and epidural injections that aren’t available at most primary care physician’s offices. You’ll likely benefit from visiting a specialist when:
- You’re not responding well to initial treatments
- Your pain is getting worse and symptoms are becoming more severe
- You have spine pain with symptoms that could suggest several different sources (e.g. nerve-related pain felt in the lower back and legs due to irritation of the sciatic nerve or piriformis muscle or issues with the SI joint)
- You have a condition that requires surgery, such as severe nerve compression from spinal stenosis, sciatica, disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, or scoliosis
3. Recovery Specialists
Usually including physical therapists, physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors), massage therapists, and occupational therapists, recovery specialists are often seen after a diagnosis has been made. They won’t always be doctors, although they often work closely with spine specialists and primary care physicians. The role of any type of recovery specialist is to:
- Strengthen muscles that directly and indirectly support the spine
- Increase range of motion, mobility, and flexibility
- Help you reach a point where your discomfort is manageable
- Offer recommendations on how to prevent future injuries and what activities you may want to avoid or modify
Oftentimes, you’ll be fine with a visit to your regular doctor. And there are times when it may be necessary to see all three of these doctors at some point. Part of the reason for this is because a diagnosis must be accurate for treatments to provide meaningful relief.
With some types of spine pain, it’s beneficial to get more than one opinion to determine if there are treatment options you haven’t yet considered, such as minimally invasive spinal surgery. Beverly Hills patients can turn to The Spine Institute for the help they need. Give us a call at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.