What Doctor to See for Back Pain?

Back pain is a common complaint, but the causes of people’s back problems can vary widely. How do you know whether to see a chiropractor or an orthopedist? What about acupuncture? If you want to learn which specialist can treat your particular problem that might be causing your chronic back pain, then make friends with your family physician first.

The Doctors That Can Help

Once you have consulted with your family physician, they can give you a referral to a particular specialist. This not only keeps your treatment covered under your health care plan, but also eliminates trips to specialists that aren’t required. The first specialist to see is always your family doctor. Then you can move on to other specialists, as they are recommended.

see a doctor for back pain

Family Physician

Your family doctor will be most familiar with your complaint and also have a full medical history and can better assess what conditions are contributing to neck pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, or low back pain. He might even be able to prescribe some pain killers, if he believes the pain is temporary and it is nothing to be too concerned over.

However, there will be times when your family doctor will decide it’s time to see another specialist. In that instance, he or she will also be more familiar with the wide range of medical and non-medical specialists that might suit your particular problem. This can save you time picking out a treatment path and also help you discover new treatment options.


These specialists are not MDs, but they can treat some back pain by making spine adjustments. They can help relieve the stress put on the back that is caused by spinal misalignments. However, they won’t be offering any medical treatments. Even so, many health plans do cover chiropractors now.


They work on both the bones in the spine and the muscles in the back. They are a good “all-around” doctor to see and are the most common back expert that your family doctor will recommend. They cover severe neck pain too, unlike a chiropractor. You can use them to treat a ruptured or herniated disc, sciatica, and degenerative disc disease. Since they cover both muscles and spine treatments, you can get a better view of whether your pain is temporary or might be more chronic that you thought.

Physical Therapist

These specialists are often called in after a traumatic injury due to an accident. They help a patient rehabilitate through structured exercise routines. Some have training that can help them with patients who suffer back pain, but not all. If you are having back pain that is a result of another injury, then check to make sure your physical therapist has training in this area as well.


Those with severe low back pain should go to an acupuncturist, rather than a chiropractor. Acupuncture is believed to help chronic back pain sufferers by using a Chinese technique that inserts thin needles at specific “energy” points along the back.

Some people believe it works by releasing natural opioids or increasing endorphins in the body, although none of that has been proven. It doesn’t matter if you want to believe in Chinese medicine or not, however, if after the treatment your back feels better, like it has for countless others.

This type of back specialist is an alternative health practitioner that may or may not be covered under your current health insurance plan. Check with your health insurance provider.


A physiatrist is often viewed as a specialist for back pain. If you experience weakness in the limbs, including leg pain or numbness in the extremities, along with back pain you may have spinal stenosis. This condition can occur naturally as you age and is the result of the spinal cord being compressed. In that case, you may want a back specialist who also has medical training, like a physiastrist, so that they can offer injections or pharmaceuticals to help control the pain.

However, that’s not the only time you might want to visit a physiatrist. A physiatrist can also manage and oversee a team of back specialists who you are visiting to help you take care of your back problems. They can be very helpful when you’re still trying to determine the cause of the back pain and need multiple opinions to narrow it down.


Some back issues affect the nerves in the back or need reconstructive surgery. Even spinal stenosis can end up requiring surgery, if injections and other types of treatments are not sufficient to alleviate pain. By the time someone has been referred to a back surgeon, it’s usually a treatment of last resort.

Surgery is far more invasive and expensive to use in back treatment options, and can cause other problems if done improperly. Usually, a surgeon is recommended when the patient’s quality of life is at stake due to increased pain, limited mobility, or other factors that require surgery to alleviate (like a brain tumor causing back pain).

Luckily, if you are assessed by a neurosurgeon and do require back surgery, this is usually covered under most health insurance plans.

Determine Your Best Option By Finding the Root Cause

As can be seen, back pain relief may come from many different doctors who can help with a variety of different causes. It may take some time and a team of specialist looking at your back problem from different angles, both medical and non-medical, to determine the root cause.

Once you do have a good idea of what is causing the problem in the first place, it can be a lot easier figuring out which doctor should take control of your back treatment options.

You may even find that it will be a combination of specialists who can all contribute their particular specialty, whether it is a spinal adjustment or injections.

Don’t overlook some of the non-medical specialists, as they can contribute a lot of pain relief and comfort, even if you are also undergoing other treatments like surgery or injections. Just make sure all your back specialists are aware of each other and that they are all working in conjunction to bring out the best results with a holistic treatment plan that covers all your back issues.

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