Which doctor should I contact about a specific spinal problem?


Not all healthcare providers are the same. There are many medical specialties for the person with spinal pain, and if you don't understand the different types, choosing who (or who) can treat it effectively can quickly become overwhelming. Who are you talking to and when? Here is a quick list.

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Family doctors and general practitioners

When you have neck or back pain for the first time, your family doctor, general practitioner (GP), or general practitioner (PCP) is probably the best fit. They can prescribe pain relievers, give you some exercise, and possibly send you to a physical therapist.

If your healthcare provider thinks your problem is serious, they will most likely order diagnostic tests and / or refer you to a specialist, such as a rheumatologist or neurologist . But it may take time for family health professionals to incorporate new back treatments as they become available.

According to a 2006 study published in the Spine Journal . In addition to collecting your medical history and physical exam, which are the two main elements of a spine diagnosis, the study found that despite the publication of new guidelines by leading medical organizations, they were not followed by health care providers in your practice.

Because of this, it can help you to be proactive when purchasing spinal products. One way to do this is to explore your diagnostic and treatment options before contacting your healthcare provider. Another way is to ask tough questions at the front desk.


Pediatricians diagnose and treat a variety of children's health problems, including back pain and injuries. A pediatrician is a family physician who cares for a child from birth through early adulthood. If your child's spinal condition requires referral to a specialist, the pediatrician will most likely refer you.

Healthcare providers in emergency departments.

The emergency department is often visited by people with neck or back pain who need immediate medical attention. This could be due to an injury from a car accident, falls, or gunshot wounds.

Symptoms of cauda equina syndrome , including loss of bladder or bowel function or progressive weakening of the legs, are also reasons to seek emergency care.

If you really don't need to see your healthcare provider right away, it's best to make an appointment at your provider's office.


An orthopedic surgeon is a board-certified surgeon who specializes in problems of the musculoskeletal system from head to toe. This, of course, includes the spine. A podiatrist can treat conditions such as a ruptured disc, scoliosis, or other types of neck or lower back pain.

Some surgeries performed by orthopedic surgeons can also be performed by neurosurgeons (see below). Examples of such procedures include fusion, discectomy, and more.


A rheumatologist is a board certified physician who treats many forms of arthritis. A significant percentage of rheumatologists specialize in inflammatory arthritis; In the spine, this type of disease is manifested by ankylosing spondylitis and related conditions.

It is possible to visit a rheumatologist for spinal stenosis (which is a progressive form of osteoarthritis). But, in general, a rheumatologist accepts patients with symptoms of sacroiliitis, axial spondylosis, ankylosing spondylitis, and other similar diseases.


A neurologist is a specialist who diagnoses and treats problems of the nervous system. For example, Parkinson's disease, other diseases of the brain and spinal cord and peripheral nerves. If your back or neck pain is chronic and long-lasting, a neurologist may be selected because they know the cause of the pain.

The neurologist does not perform spinal surgery; Instead, they will check how well your nerves are working, prescribe medication, and refer you to another specialist if necessary. A neurologist can be a physician or other licensed physician.


A neurosurgeon specializes in diseases and conditions of the central nervous system and the nerves that run from the spine (called the peripheral nervous system). A neurosurgeon can perform operations on the brain and spinal cord or on the spine itself.

While neurosurgeons provide non-surgical treatment for back pain, in most cases you will only be referred to one of them after you have exhausted all of your conservative treatment options.

Osteopathic Healthcare Providers

An osteopath is a certified medical professional who, under oath, is required to work in a comprehensive and patient-oriented manner. To become a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO), you must graduate from an accredited medical school, complete the same program as a physician, plus 300 to 500 hours of training focused on the musculoskeletal system.

Approximately 20% of medical students are trained to be osteopaths. After graduating from medical school, DO completes an internship and residency program (usually in conjunction with doctors of medical science), passes state licensing exams, and generally earns specialty certification. Many osteopaths work as primary health care providers.

Although osteopaths are licensed to prescribe medications and perform minor surgeries, they often pay attention to their environment and lifestyle and perform practical manipulations in patient care.


Another type of holistic-minded physician, a physical therapist, is a certified health care provider who specializes in physical functioning. This growing specialty provides rehabilitation for all types of conditions and injuries, from strokes to low back pain, sports injuries and more.

Very often, a physical therapist coordinates a patient's team of specialists to provide a treatment plan that effectively meets their specific medical needs. You can understand a physical therapist as a physical therapist doctor.


Chiropractic is a practical discipline of alternative medicine that restores the physiological function of the body by aligning the spine. To do this, chiropractors treat subluxation (a term that means something different to a chiropractor than it does to a regular healthcare provider).

Chiropractors consider their work to be a combination of art and science. The goal of correction (subluxation) is to improve general health by eliminating disturbances in the normal flow of nerve transmission.

It is important to understand that the main strategy of chiropractic is relaxation; in other words, increase flexibility. Toning and lifting is not exactly what your chiropractor looks for when correcting it.

If you have weak joints, deteriorated connective tissue, or osteoporosis, chiropractic care can do more harm than good.

Frequently asked questions

  • Generally speaking, you should see your doctor for back pain that you know is caused by osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or a spinal abnormality. A chiropractor may be suitable for back pain (lower back) , sciatica , and old sports back injuries.

  • If you are sure that you do not have disc problems and want to try conservative treatment first, you can start with a chiropractor. If not, check with your therapist, who may refer you to an orthopedist or other specialist depending on the nature of your pain.

  • Epidural Steroid Injection (ESI) can be performed by various types of healthcare professionals, including those who specialize in pain relief, physical therapists, interventional radiologists, anesthesiologists, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and neurologists.

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