Many of our readers ask us which type of physician they should see first when suffering from back pain. My advice is to start with a diagnosis from a physiatrist who specializes in back pain.
The benefits of seeing a physiatrist
- Most physiatrists can provide you with the broadest array of treatments for back pain:
- Spinal injections (for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes)
- Prescription pain medications and anti-inflammatories
- Heat and cold therapy information
- Physical therapy
- Education on ergonomics, posture, etc.
- I like the general orientation of the physiatry physician, which is to provide enough pain relief to enable patients to make progress with rehabilitation—the best long-term solution. Practitioners in other specialties may have this focus—many do—but my impression is that physiatrists are most likely to have this focus.
- Most physiatrists have a strong surgical referral network. So if you really do need surgery, they are able to refer you to a surgeon who they know has done a good job for other patients.
- Many physiatrists are part of an integrated clinic or network of clinicians who provide coordinated care, e.g. chiropractors, pain management specialists, physical therapists, psychologists who specialize in pain, etc. For complex cases, this is often the best way to go.
Again, let me repeat: I realize that clinicians in many specialties have many of the above qualities, and I am not saying that every physiatrist is good at treating back pain. I am highlighting this specialty's training and approach to treating back pain because, in general, this seems to be a medical specialty that many consumers don't know about, and I would like those seeking back pain relief to know about this option.