We recently ran a very unscientific poll on our Facebook page asking our visitors which type of doctor helped them with their back pain diagnosis. Roughly 10 percent of our responders said a physiatrist helped them the most. I wonder if the number is low because not many people think of seeing a physiatrist first.
Whenever someone with bad back pain asks me where to get help, I say I would start with a diagnosis from a physiatrist who specializes in back pain. Here is why:
- 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 ice and other pain modalities
- Physical therapy
- Education on ergonomics, posture, etc.
- I like the general orientation of the physiatry, which is to provide enough pain relief to enable patients to make progress with rehabilitation - the best long term solution. (I'm not saying that practitioners in other specialties don't 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 would be able to refer you to a surgeon who they know has done a good job for other patients.
- Many are part of an integrated clinic or network of clinicians to 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.