I have back pain! At what point should I see an orthopedic spine doctor?

The most common cause of back pain is "axial" in nature: it comes on after doing a certain activity or sport, or sitting for long periods. It feels dull or achy, but the pain is tolerable. It is relieved by rest and doesn't require much, if any, special effort to get rid of it.

Other types of back pain don't adhere to these same patterns. They might also feel dull or achy but perhaps don't go away with rest. They might also have happened after a certain sport or activity but they get worse instead of better. Some back pain travels down to the buttocks down the leg, or out to an arm instead of staying in the back. Pain might feel more intense or “shooting” in nature. It interferes with daily activities and exercise. These are all indications that something more serious may be going on.

An orthopedic spine doctor is often the best first stop when any of these things are occurring. They have specialized knowledge about the spine and how all the body systems work together. They can identify the root causes of back pain with a careful, in-depth examination, by taking MRI and/or x-ray images, and by getting your health history. Once a diagnosis is clear, you and your doctor can decide on a treatment course that will work for you. Together you'll set goals and even though every recovery is different, your doctor can help you set expectations for returning to normal life and your favorite activities.

Treatments for back pain vary widely depending on the situation. Most people don't require surgery but instead benefit from activity modification, anti-inflammatory medications, injections, or physical therapy. When surgery is necessary, advanced surgical techniques offer minimally invasive ways to fix, reconstruct, or even regenerate areas of the spine. (Orthopedic

doctors are also called orthopedic surgeons because they do perform surgery sometimes, but only on a very low percentage of the people who see them. They're actually doctors who specialize in orthopedic problems and often sub-specialize in a particular area, in this case, the spine.)