When to see a spine specialist for chronic back pain

Sometimes back pain comes on quick, and you know exactly what caused it. After some stretching, resting and pain relievers, you'll remember to bend with your knees next time.

But, other times, people experiencing back pain are often left thinking: I don't even remember when the pain started or what I did to cause it. The reality is that the source of you back pain may not always be evident — which can also make it hard to know when it's time to see an expert.

Dr. Spencer says the following five signs likely indicate that it's time to see a spine specialist for your back pain:

1. Your pain is severe. While some back pain is only mild to moderate, severe back pain is when your pain is constant, intense or gets worse when you're resting or at night.

2. Your pain is persistent. If your back pain lasts longer than three months, it's considered chronic and may require a tailored treatment plan.

3. Your pain isn't isolated to your back. If your pain is traveling down your leg, you have numbness or weakness in your hips or legs, or you're experiencing tingling in your legs and feet, it may be a sign that there's pressure on your spine.

4. Everyday activities have become difficult. If your back pain is already affecting routine activities, don't let it get so debilitating that it keeps you from doing things you enjoy.

5. You have other symptoms that are concerning. While rare, back pain is sometimes a sign of a serious medical condition, such as a spinal infection or spinal tumor. If your back pain is accompanied by fever, unexplained weight loss or bowel or urinary problems, tell your doctor.

If you're experiencing any of these signs, a spine specialist can investigate the underlying cause of your back pain through imaging tests, such as X-ray, CT, MRI or myelogram. A myelogram uses contrast dye injected into the spinal canal with a CT scan to evaluate the spine. Or, your specialist may recommend an electromyography (EMG) — a test of your muscles and nerves.

"There are several ways to treat chronic back pain, including medications, physical therapy, injections and surgery — with the best treatment option usually depending on the cause and severity of your pain," says Dr. Spencer. "We always start by using the least invasive, most effective treatment first. However, surgery may be necessary in some cases."

Regardless of what's causing your back pain, a spine specialist has the expertise needed to design a targeted treatment plan aimed at resolving your lower back pain and improving your quality of life.

Call our office todat to schedule an appointment with Dr. Spencer.

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