Since there are many types of back pain and many specialists who treat them, it can be difficult to know where to go for chronic back pain treatment. You can save time and money by educating yourself on the type of pain you feel and fast-track your treatment by choosing the appropriate specialist to work with.
The two key pieces of information to have are what your pain indicates and what various practitioners specialize in. This will give you an idea of where to find effective treatment for your unique back pain.
Types of Pain
It is important for people with chronic pain to develop a vocabulary of pain terms. Common expressions, such as, “My back went out,” or simply, “My back hurts” don’t convey much helpful information. Backs don’t “go out,” and pain can manifest in a number of sensations and locations. A pain vocabulary should include descriptors of sensation and anatomical references.
Common back pain sensations are:
If your pain is localized, it is unlikely that you have nerve impingement. If the pain is burning, aching or throbbing, it is likely muscular pain. You will have to think about the activities you conduct during the day, your posture and your activity level. Could this muscle strain be caused by repetitive use, where small injuries to a muscle accrue and become chronic? Does your poor posture cause strain to the muscle or muscles in question? Are you sedentary? If you are active, is it possible that you have a muscle imbalance? The answers to these questions will likely determine what causes your muscle pain.
If the pain you feel is on or around the spine, or if it is at the joints in the lower back where the hip bones meet the sacrum (SI joints), then it is possible your joints are misaligned or inflamed. Age, activity level, posture and repetitive actions will need to be taken into account to determine what is causing your joint problem.
Once you have a better grasp on the type of pain you feel, you can narrow down the list of specialists who may be able to help.
Nerve Pain Specialists
If you have nerve pain, for example, whatever is impinging the nerve must be addressed to relieve your pain. A number of things can cause impingement: a bulging disc, a herniated disc or a misaligned vertebra are among the most common. MRI tests can decipher whether you have any of these problems. (Imaging tests will also identify bone fractures, a less common cause of back pain).
Chiropractors specialize in spinal alignment and nerve function restoration. Some have inversion tables or spinal decompression machines in their offices that can increase disc space and return discs to their normal shape. You can also purchase an inversion table on your own. Doctors of osteopathy (D.O.s) also practice spinal manipulation techniques, but have a much broader range of knowledge and techniques for treatment. If you suspect you have other health issues, a D.O. may be the well-rounded practitioner you need. Finally, a physical therapist can prescribe exercises to keep back muscles strong, which will support the spine in its proper alignment.
Muscle Pain Specialists
If you are an active person with muscular pain, or if your job requires repetitive movements, it would be expedient to seek out the help of a physical therapist familiar with muscle imbalances. Pain caused by imbalance can only be truly resolved by targeted exercise of weaker muscles and forced relaxation of tense ones. Self-myofascial release may be used, or deep tissue massage may be prescribed.
Joint Pain Specialists
If you suspect that your joints are causing your pain, you may benefit from chiropractic care combined with physical therapy, or from the treatment of a D.O. Each of these specialists can help realign the spine, maintain alignment of joints and restore range of motion. They can also give you advice about healthy habits at home that will help keep your joints aligned and supported.
When seeking treatment for chronic back pain, remember that masking the pain is not treatment. While is an important part of recovery, pain medications do not solve your problem. Treating the root is the only way to ensure the pain stays away. This brief guide may help you decide which specialist offers the most promise in treating your pain. Developing a pain vocabulary and understanding what professionals specialize in can speed up your recovery.