Navigating Back and Spine Pain: Who to See for Relief

Back and spine pain can be debilitating, affecting an estimated 80% of our world’s population. Whether it’s from a sudden injury or a chronic condition, finding the right healthcare professional is crucial for effective treatment. Various back conditions can require treatment plans from different types of specialists, and The Center’s team of physicians is equipped to treat a variety of back conditions that can occur anywhere from birth to later in life. However, knowing which specialist to see for your pain can be confusing. To make the right choice, it’s important to understand the specific spine and back conditions treated by our physiatrists, neurosurgeons, and orthopedists at The Center.


Physiatrists, also known as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians, are specialists in non-surgical treatments for musculoskeletal and neurological conditions. Their holistic approach focuses on maximizing function and improving quality of life through a variety of therapies and interventions.

Physiatrists play a crucial role in diagnosing and managing back and spine pain. They are skilled in assessing the underlying causes of pain, whether it’s due to muscle strain, nerve compression, or degenerative changes in the spine. By conducting thorough evaluations and diagnostic tests, such as imaging studies and nerve conduction studies, they can pinpoint the source of the problem and develop personalized treatment plans tailored to each patient’s needs.

This list is an example of just some of the back and spinal conditions a physiatrist will treat:

  • Acute/persistent back pain; may be associated with radiating extremity pain (pinched nerves)
  • Numbness, tingling, and weakness
  • Back injuries caused by motor vehicle, sport, or occupational accidents
  • Neurologic conditions
    • Spinal cord injury
    • Cerebral palsy
    • Spasticity
    • Multiple sclerosis

Physiatrist Treatment for Back Pain

Physiatrist’s approach to treatment often includes a non-surgical plan that is created based on a detailed medical history and physical exam and may involve additional diagnostic tests including imaging studies, electrodiagnostic testing (EMG), and lab testing. They may also administer injections to target specific areas of pain. These injections may include corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, local anesthetics to block nerve signals or regenerative therapies such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections to promote tissue healing.


Neurosurgeons are specialists who focus on the surgical treatment of disorders affecting the nervous system, including the spine. While physiatrists excel in non-surgical interventions, neurosurgeons are called upon when conservative treatments fail to provide relief or when a condition requires surgical intervention. Some of the spine and back conditions treated by a neurosurgeon include:

  • Chiari malformations
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Congenital spine conditions
  • Spina bifida
  • Tethered cord
  • Compression fractures
  • Herniated disk
  • Sciatica
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spine trauma
  • Spine tumors
  • Spondylolisthesis

Neurosurgeons Treatment for Back Pain

The Center’s board-certified neurosurgeons practice a conservative approach, using a wide variety of non-operative treatment options. When surgery is necessary, it is performed in the least invasive way to shorten recovery time and reduce pain.


Orthopedic spine surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine and surrounding structures. Like neurosurgeons, they are experts in addressing a wide range of spine disorders, from degenerative conditions to traumatic injuries. Below are a few common conditions/injuries orthopedic spine surgeons treat:

Degenerative Disc Disease

One of the most common conditions treated by orthopedic spine surgeons is degenerative disc disease, a condition characterized by the breakdown of the spinal discs over time. When conservative treatments such as physical therapy and medication management fail to provide relief, surgical intervention may be necessary. Orthopedic spine surgeons perform procedures such as spinal fusion, artificial disc replacement, or disc arthroplasty to stabilize the spine, restore disc height, and alleviate pain.


Orthopedic spine surgeons also specialize in treating spinal deformities such as scoliosis. Scoliosis is a condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine, which can cause pain, breathing difficulties, and functional limitations. Orthopedic spine surgeons perform corrective surgeries such as spinal fusion with instrumentation to realign the spine, stabilize the curvature, and prevent further progression of the deformity.

Spinal Trauma

In cases of spinal trauma, such as fractures or dislocations resulting from accidents or falls, orthopedic spine surgeons play a crucial role in stabilizing the spine and restoring function. Surgical procedures may include spinal fusion, vertebral fracture reduction, or the placement of hardware such as rods, screws, or plates to immobilize the spine and promote healing.

Orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Paul Shultz, explains a common misconception about back pain and visiting a spine surgeon in this short video.

By understanding the roles and expertise of each of these specialists, patients can make informed decisions about their care and take proactive steps toward pain relief and improved function. Whether through non-surgical interventions or advanced surgical techniques, The Center’s team of specialists are dedicated to helping patients achieve optimal outcomes and regain control of their lives. If you’re experiencing back or spine pain, schedule an appointment with our team and take the first step towards a healthier, pain-free life.

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