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5 signs you should see a spine specialist for your back pain

By Maureen Nagg on 
Posted on May 20, 2021

5 signs you should see a spine specialist for your back pain

The Spine & Orthopedic Institute at St. Vincent Charity has helped thousands of people renew their lives and move beyond debilitating back, neck and joint conditions. Call 1-866-437-1333 or click here to request an appointment with a spine surgeon. 

Most everyone has suffered from some form of back pain at least once in their life. Whether you tweaked your back helping a friend move a couch or suffered a debilitating illness or injury, back pain is a leading cause of disability and one that most people try to grin and bear. Popping ibuprofen may be a short-term solution to masking your pain, but it won’t fix the problem.

Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong, and unfortunately many people ignore this sign for longer than they should.

It can be hard to tell if back pain is the result of a pulled muscle or an actual problem with your spine. A good rule of thumb is pain that happens suddenly due to twisting, bending or lifting is likely a muscle strain. Our muscles tend to lose elasticity as we age which makes us more prone to “tweaking” or “throwing out” our back.

Causes of back pain

Minor back pain usually can be attributed to things like overdoing it (heavy yard work), poor posture, obesity, a weak core or a sedentary lifestyle. Back strain will usually resolve in its own with rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, exercise and physical therapy.

However, back pain caused by a more serious injury, illness, or conditions like osteoporosis, spinal stenosis or herniated discs, should be evaluated by a physician who specializes in spinal care. While many health care providers can treat the symptoms of back pain, spine specialists are experts at diagnosing and caring for the underlying symptoms that are causing or contributing to the problem.

Five signs it’s time to see a spine specialist

  1. Chronic pain of varying degrees that lasts for 12 weeks or longer, even if you’ve sought treatment for the primary cause.
  2. The pain is getting in the way of living your life. Are you missing work? Unable to exercise like you once did? Does it hurt just to get out of bed in the morning?
  3. Foot or leg weakness or numbness with or without accompanying bladder or bowel issues. This could be a sign of a compressed nerve or disc herniation.
  4. You are unstable on your feet, aren’t able to walk far without pain, or continue to have back pain while sitting, standing or laying down.
  5. You have limited range of motion (unable to bend over, twist sideways or stand up straight without pain).

In addition to reviewing your medical history, your spine physician may order:

  • X-rays to check for alignment issues, arthritis or fractures.
  • CT or MRI imaging to look for herniated discs or musculoskeletal issues.
  • Blood tests to see if an infection could be contributing to your pain.
  • Bone scans to identify any abnormal growths or tumors.
  • Nerve imaging to check for compressions.

Ways to relieve your back pain

Once you have been evaluated, you and your doctor will come up with a plan of care specific to your needs. Although some conditions and injuries are suited to immediate surgical repair, most treatment plans begin conservatively with physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, injection-based treatments (nerve blocks, epidurals and nerve ablations), and medications to reduce inflammation, relax the muscles and decrease pain. Complementary therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, biofeedback and nerve stimulation may also be added as alternative treatments.

If none of these options reduces your pain over time, your doctor may suggest surgery to improve your symptoms and reduce degenerative damage. Most spinal surgeries can be performed with surgical aids that allow for a minimally invasive approach which leads to less blood loss, reduced rates of pain and infection, shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery times.

Why you should speak with a spine specialist

Before agreeing to any kind of surgery, seek a second opinion from another specialist with expertise in spine surgery. Make sure you fully understand the risks vs. benefits, what’s involved, recovery times and any post-surgical rehabilitation that may be needed.

If you’ve been living with chronic back pain one thing that won’t hurt is exploring your options with one of the spine specialists at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.

 

The Spine & Orthopedic Institute at St. Vincent Charity has helped thousands of people renew their lives and move beyond debilitating back, neck and joint conditions. Call 1-866-437-1333 or click here to request an appointment with a spine surgeon. 

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