Should I See a Spine Specialist for Back Pain?

Dec 15, 2022

Spine Specialist for Back PainThe spine is a complex and vital part of the human body that provides support, stability, and protection for the spinal cord and nerves. The spine is made up of a column of bones known as vertebrae, which are separated by spongy discs that provide shock absorption. A network of muscles, tendons, and ligaments supports the spine and allows for movement and flexibility. Because the spine is responsible for such a wide range of functions, pain and other uncomfortable symptoms can negatively impact your daily routines and regular activities. When you experience back pain while standing, bending, twisting, and moving in various directions, you may need to see a spine specialist to get to the root of the problem. An issue with your spine or the spinal cord and nerves can negatively impact healthy communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Overall, the complexity of the spine makes it a challenging area to diagnose and treat, which is where a spine specialist can help.

What Is a Spine Specialist?

What Is a Spine SpecialistA spine specialist is a term for a spine surgeon or neurosurgeon. Spine specialists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the spine, spinal cord, spinal discs, and nerves. Spine specialists receive specialized training to perform both non-surgical and surgical treatments for a wide range of spine-related conditions, including herniated discs, spinal fractures, and spinal cord injuries. When you see a spine specialist for back pain and other symptoms, they will assess what type of treatment options will work best for you. The goal of a spine specialist is to help you experience reduced pain and improved mobility through appropriate treatment for your spine condition.

Education & Training for Spine Specialists

Spine specialists undergo specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the spine. To become a spine specialist, or neurosurgeon, an individual must complete a four-year bachelor’s degree program before attending medical school. Medical school typically involves four additional years of education where they learn the principles of medicine and gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations in various specialties. After completing medical school, individuals interested in becoming spine surgeons will then need to complete a neurosurgery residency program. A neurosurgery residency will include intensive training in neurosurgery from diagnosis through treatment of a wide variety of spine conditions. To practice medicine, spine specialists must also obtain a medical license in the state they plan to work and obtain a certification with the American Board of Neurological Surgery.

Types of Back Pain

There are many different types of back pain, and the specific type of back pain you experience may depend on the underlying cause as well as individual health factors. Here are some common types of back pain and how they can impact you.

Chronic vs. Acute Pain

Chronic back pain refers to a type of pain that lasts for more than three months and can be caused by a variety of health conditions or injuries to the spine. Acute back pain, on the other hand, develops suddenly and may last for a few days to a few weeks. Acute back pain is often caused by a muscle strain or injury, like using improper lifting techniques or overexertion. However, if left untreated, acute back pain can develop into chronic pain that lasts for much longer.

Axial Pain

Axial pain refers to a specific type of pain caused by problems within the vertebrae, spinal discs, or muscles that support the spine. This type of pain has been known to cause dull, aching pain in the back or neck.

Radicular Pain

Radicular pain is a type of pain that occurs when a spinal nerve root becomes irritated or compressed. This type of pain can feel like a sharp and stabbing pain and may be accompanied by other symptoms like tingling, numbness, or weakness that extends into your arms or legs.

Referred Pain

Referred pain is a specific type of back pain caused by an issue in another part of the body. For example, you could experience back pain that is actually caused by a problem in the kidneys.

Locations of Back Pain

Back pain can occur in and around the spine, including the neck, upper back, mid back, and lower back. The specific location of your pain will depend on the underlying cause. The cervical spine refers to the vertebrae in your neck, and an injury or condition in this area can cause neck and back pain. The vertebrae in the middle of your back make up the thoracic spine, and upper back pain is also known as thoracic pain. Upper back pain can also occur with stiffness and difficulty moving your shoulders or upper back. Mid-back pain is also known as thoracic pain and will primarily cause symptoms around the middle of the back and ribs area. Lower back pain, one of the most common locations for back pain, is also known as lumbar pain. Lumbar pain can cause pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving your lower back and hips.

Common Causes of Back Pain

There are many potential causes of back pain, and it can be difficult to determine the specific cause without a thorough evaluation by a doctor or spine specialist. Here are some examples of common causes of back pain and what kind of symptoms they can cause.

Strains & Sprains

One of the most common causes of back pain in adults of all ages is aggravation or injury to the soft tissues that support the spine. Muscle strains or ligament sprains can occur when these tissues become overstretched or torn, whether a result of overexertion or an accident. You may not be able to tell the difference between a back sprain or a back strain, but a spine specialist can identify the source of the pain and the specific type of injury.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc refers to an injury that impacts the spinal discs. A spinal disc includes a soft, gel-like nucleus protected by a tough outer shell. When the outer shell becomes torn, the gel-like center of the spinal disc can bulge out and aggravate nearby nerves and tissues. Herniated discs can cause back pain in the area along with pain, tingling, and numbness that radiates into your arms or legs.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a type of spinal condition that typically occurs with aging. As we age, the discs in the spine can start to wear down and lose their cushioning effect. This can lead to back pain and discomfort, including stiffness and difficulty moving.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis that can affect various joints in the body, including vertebrae of the spine. This type of degenerative joint disease can cause pain and stiffness in your back that may gradually get worse with time.


Scoliosis is a type of spine condition where the spine curves to the side, typically in an “S” shape. Scoliosis can cause back pain and affect healthy posture, making it difficult to stand or sit straight.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis refers to a spine condition where the spaces within the spine start to narrow, which can put pressure on nearby nerves. Spinal stenosis can cause back pain, along with symptoms of nerve compression like numbness, weakness, or tingling in arms or legs.

How to Diagnose Causes of Back Pain

There are several methods a spine specialist may use to diagnose the specific causes of your back pain. This includes performing a physical exam, taking your medical history, and running necessary tests. A physical exam will allow your doctor to examine your back for any signs of tenderness, swelling, or deformity. They may also ask you to perform certain movements to test your strength and range of motion. Information in your medical history may also help them understand your risk factors for certain spinal conditions and inform which diagnostic tests to use. Laboratory and imaging tests can help to identify any potential underlying medical conditions and locate the source of your pain. Diagnostic imaging tools like X-rays and CT scans can help your doctor visualize the various structures in your spine and identify any abnormalities or injuries that cause your pain and other symptoms. These diagnostic imaging tests may also be repeated throughout your treatment process to measure the progress of your recovery.

Treatment Options for Back Pain with a Spine Specialist

Atlanta-Orthopedic-Treatment-For-Chronic-Back-PainA spine specialist is a neurosurgeon, but that doesn’t always mean surgery is the best option for treating your back pain. In fact, spine specialists specialize in both non-surgical and surgical treatments for a wide range of spine-related conditions, including those listed above. Here are examples of both non-surgical and surgical treatment options for back pain, which can vary depending on your specific diagnosis.

Non-Surgical Treatments

Non-surgical treatments refer to any type of treatment that does not involve surgery. Most non-surgical treatments are considered minimally invasive and can be effective in relieving your back pain and improving healthy functioning without the risks and recovery time associated with surgery.


Medications like over-the-counter pain relievers can help provide temporary relief to back pain and reduce inflammation. However, it is important to note that medications do not treat the source of your pain and should only be considered in addition to other treatment options.

Cold & Heat Therapy

Applying ice and heat to your back can help soothe back pain. Cold therapy helps restrict blood flow to the area and provides a temporary numbing sensation to help relieve pain. Heat therapy promotes the release of muscle tension in the area and can also help reduce your pain and discomfort.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care for back pain offers an all-natural treatment option for a wide variety of conditions that impact the spine. Chiropractors use spinal adjustments and other techniques to help relieve back pain and improve the healthy functioning of the spine and nerves.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy allows you to take an active role in your healing and recovery from various conditions that cause back pain. A physical therapist can walk you through stretches and exercises to improve flexibility, strength, and mobility in your back.

Lifestyle Improvements

Your spine specialist may also talk to you about lifestyle improvements, including changes to your daily routine. Improving your posture and getting regular exercise can help prevent back pain while also improving your overall health.

Surgical Procedures

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat a spine condition or injury. Spine specialists perform a wide variety of surgical procedures, including the following examples:


A discectomy is a surgical procedure used to address a herniated disc that is compressing a nerve root or affecting the spinal cord. A discectomy involves repairing or removing a herniated disc.


A laminectomy is a type of spine surgery that involves removing a small portion of the bone in a vertebra to create more space for spinal nerves. A laminectomy may be required to treat a condition like a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

Spinal Fusion

A spinal fusion is a type of surgical procedure where a neurosurgeon fuses two or more vertebrae together to help stabilize the spine. Spinal fusion may be recommended for severe conditions of degenerative disc disease or scoliosis.

When to Visit a Spine Specialist

It is a good idea to visit a spine specialist if you experience persistent or severe back pain that does not go away with home remedies or more conservative treatment options. Signs that you may need to see a spine specialist also include pain that radiates down your leg or into your arms, or if you experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in your extremities. Visit AICA Orthopedics in Lithia Springs for a spine specialist near you and get started on a personalized treatment plan to help relieve your back pain. Our spine specialists work alongside other doctors, including orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors, neurologists, and physical therapists, who provide you with quality, comprehensive care.



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