Finding the Right Spine Specialist

When you're dealing with chronic or ongoing episodes of back pain and/or neck pain, sometimes it seems that half the battle is just finding the right kind of specialist to diagnose and treat your pain.

Herniated Disc VideoA primary care doctor can diagnose a herniated disc. Watch: Herniated Disc Video

Many people end up seeing a variety of specialists over time, and sometimes those specialists may have differing opinions on how to treat your condition.

See Specialists Who Treat Back Pain

We have a few tips to help you navigate the many different types of doctors who treat spine pain.

Start with your primary physician

While most primary care physicians or internists are not experts in treating spinal conditions, it is important to consult with your primary physician in order to rule out other problems that may be causing pain and/or affecting your spine. Additionally, many primary physicians can diagnose a herniated disc or other problem that may be causing your pain and refer you to an appropriate spine specialist in your area.

Your primary physician might be a primary care physician/internist who is an MD (medical doctor) or DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine). Some people may prefer to visit a DC (doctor of chiropractic) at the initial onset of back pain.

See When to See a Surgeon for Low Back Pain

If pain continues, go to a spine specialist

A growing number of spine physicians are specializing in treating spinal disorders, and many have completed additional fellowship training in spine medicine. We recommend that you check whether your physician is board certified or board eligible, and that he or she focuses on spine medicine (e.g. at least one-third to one-half of the practice is devoted to spine medicine).

It is important to note that no single type of physician treats all types of back pain or neck pain. Some types of pain may respond to manual treatments (e.g. chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation or physical therapy), whereas others might respond better to medical treatments (e.g. medications, injections, etc).

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Consider going to an integrated spine center

There is a growing trend in medicine toward diagnosing and treating back pain and/or neck pain using an integrated approach. The integrated (or multidisciplinary) approach means that health care professionals from different specialties work together as a team to diagnose and treat your spinal condition.

One main advantage of an integrated approach is that it should help reduce the long process of trying to find the right doctor to treat your pain.

Another advantage is that your care should be well coordinated, and ideally the communication and coordination between specialists should lead to higher quality medical care. This should be especially helpful if there are multiple potential causes of your pain, or if your case is complex and you need treatment from more than one type of specialist.

Be well prepared for your medical consultation

Thorough preparation for your consultation with a physician should also help ensure that your path to pain relief will be as direct as possible.

When you're in pain, it can be difficult to describe your situation to the doctor in a complete, concise, and accurate manner. Therefore, it's important to research the questions your doctor is likely to ask you and be well prepared to provide thorough, specific information. This preparation is the best way you can help your doctor arrive at an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. The article Getting an Accurate Back Pain Diagnosis will be helpful before you visit a specialist.

As difficult as it may be to articulate the type of pain you feel, it's important to be as detailed as possible. When did the pain start? Is there anything you do that makes your pain feel better or worse? Describe your pain—sharp, dull, piercing, aching, etc. When the pain is at its worst, what can you still do and what can you not do? Does your pain move around, or is it always in the same location?

Some people feel that it's most important for a doctor to listen to them and treat them respectfully, and others don't care about the doctor's bedside manner—all they care about are his or her skills. This part of choosing a doctor is really up to you. However, it's always important to be well prepared to ask your doctor relevant questions, report your condition thoroughly and accurately, and conduct research to help ensure that you see the right kind of specialist for your condition.

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