Back Pain Doctor | Back Pain Doctors

There are several different type of back pain doctors that specialize in treating either the soft tissue injury causing the back pain, or the underlying disease behind the symptom of back pain. When you have an episode of back pain that you eventually feel that you can no longer tolerate or manage on your own, you will usually first make an appointment with your primary care physician. Your primary care physician, though probably not a back specialist, has the ability to order medical images and to rule out serious spine problems, such as spinal stenosis, cauda equina syndrome, and even certain tumors and cancer. After the primary care physician has done his/her examination and looked at the results of the tests, he may then refer the patient to one of several MDs who specialize in spinal or orthopedic injuries, or degenerative spinal conditions. These specialists, who are all medical doctors (MD), include:
  • Orthopedic surgeon
  • Neurologist
  • Neurosurgeon
  • Osteopathic physician
  • Physiatrist (Rehabilitation doctor)
  • Rheumatologist
Orthopedic surgeon: An orthopedic surgeon is trained to treat diseases of and injuries to the musculoskeletal system. An orthopedic surgeon may treat back problems, including, but not limited to, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, osteoporotic fractures, and spinal stenosis. Orthopedic surgeon often works closely with the Physiatrist (rehabilitation doctor), to decide if the patient is a candidate for surgery, or whether they may be able to recover from a program of physical therapy. The orthopedic surgeon will often refer the patient to a physiatrist if they feel the patient will respond well to non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy. Or the orthopedic surgeon will work closely with other doctors such as the physiatrists during the recovery phase after back surgery has been performed.

The orthopedic surgeon will examine the patient and their medical images and make a determination if the patient will have a strong likelihood of responding well to physical therapy, or whether they will require surgery. Some of the most common back surgeries orthopedic surgeons perform include: Discectomy, Foramenotomy, Laminectomy, spine fusion, and spinal disc replacement.

Neurologist: A neurologist is a doctor who has advanced training in diagnosing and treating problems related to the nervous system. While orthopedic surgeons are more specialized in treating back conditions related to the discs and joints of the spine, neurologists may be more involved where the suspected cause of back pain is compression of the spinal cord itself, or the nerve roots exiting the spine. Typical problems that a neurologist will examine for include herniated discs, spinal stenosis, epilepsy, and headaches. A neurologist may perform diagnostic tests (see Nerve Tests) to tests for pinched nerves, and the location and cause of pinched nerves.

Neurosurgeon: Both Neurologists and neurosurgeons have specialty training of problems related to the nervous system. Spine neurosurgeons examine for problems with the spinal cord itself, or the nerve roots exiting the spinal cord. Rarely, will the cause of a person's back pain be due to damage to the spinal cord itself, unless the person has had a major spinal trauma, such as in a severe accident. Back problems typically examined and treated for by a neurosurgeon include spinal stenosis. While neurologists specialize in reading and performing the diagnostic tests, the neurosurgeon often does the surgery itself.