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How Do I Choose the Best Doctor for My Neck or Back Pain?

By Dr. David Packer

How Do I Choose the Best Doctor for My Neck or Back Pain?

StethoscopeIf you have neck or back pain or headaches, you really just want to feel better. But whom do you see? What type of doctor do you need? And who is going to provide you with the answers you need to get better?

How do you choose the doctor who is best suited to address your pain?

Choosing a doctor can be confusing. As a chiropractor specializing in NUCCA spinal treatment and in pain management, we’ve seen new patients come into the office wondering about their medical options. You’re not alone when it comes to making this difficult choice.

Before you choose a doctor, it is probably best to know what each type of doctor actually does.

Types of doctors who treat back pain:

  1. Primary Care Doctor
  2. Pain Management Doctor
  3. Orthopedic Surgeon
  4. Neurosurgeon
  5. Neurologist
  6. Chiropractor
  7. Physical Therapist
  8. Emergency Room Doctor
  9. Primary Spine Care Provider

That’s a lot of options. You have one problem, your pain; and there are at least nine different directions for you to turn. In order to figure out where to go, make sure you know what each one of these providers can do for you.

Precision Spinal Care is a Primary Spine Care Provider. We can evaluate your pain, provide a diagnosis, and counsel you on treatment options. If we can help you, we will. If we determine that you need another specialist, we can help you figure out which providers are best suited to treat your pain.

Primary care doctors

Primary care doctors usually are trained in family and internal medicine. They would typically do an initial intake of your history and pain. They are typically first contact providers who can prescribe pain medication and/or refer you to a specialist. They can also order imaging. However, spine pain is usually not their area of specialty.

Pain management doctors

Pain management doctors specialize in a wide range of pain management techniques. One typically needs a referral and/or an MRI to see a pain management doctor. For back pain, they might suggest and provide steroid injections to the spine. Typically they will not give a steroid injection without an MRI or a CT scan. Some pain management specialists will offer a course of opioids or narcotics to help you manage your pain, while others will only give steroid injections.

Orthopedic surgeons

Orthopedic surgeons are trained in surgical procedures on the spine. Typically orthopedic surgeons specialize in anatomical procedures such as disc herniation, spinal stenosis, nerve compression, and structural problems associated with the spine. If you are choosing an orthopedic surgeon for neck or back pain, we typically recommend seeing an orthopedic surgeon with a fellowship in spine.


Neurosurgeons specialize in disorders of the brain and spine. A neurosurgeon will deal with the anatomical procedures concerning the brain and the spine.


A neurologist specializes in injuries, diseases and disorders of the nervous system. They typically run a series of medical tests and will treat your pain with medications. They do not perform surgery.


Chiropractors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical spine pain. They are fully licensed to diagnose the causes of spinal pain, order imaging, treat, and refer out to a specialist. They are not licensed to prescribe drugs or perform surgery. When choosing a chiropractor, it is best to find one who is a credentialed primary spine care provider.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists typically focus on strength and rehabilitation of the spinal muscles. They do not diagnose spinal problems and they typically require a referral from a doctor. They can be helpful for rehabilitation for specific functional activities.

Emergency Room Doctors

ER doctors are seen typically for acute pain, after hours. They largely treat patients the same way a primary care doctor would for pain management. Since they are associated with a hospital, they can do MRIs, CTs, or other tests to check for fractures and trauma. Sometimes they can treat the pain above and beyond what a PCP can do for you.

Primary Spine Care Provider

A primary spine practitioner (PSP) is specially trained to care for patients with mechanical spine pain. A PSP looks at your body as a whole to provide differential diagnosis (looks for multiple causes for symptoms) to rule out serious pathology (such as infection, fracture, cancer, inflammatory joint disease) and provides evidence-based management for patients with spinal pain.

Evidence-based treatment methods include chiropractic, physical therapy, rehabilitative exercises, and patient education. A PSP is trained to determine the necessity of tests (x-rays, MRIs) and/or procedures, such as steroid injections or surgery. They can provide counseling and explain the different sorts of doctors and procedures available to treat your pain. They can also help you make the most appropriate choice of treatment for your care.

Know the Proper Steps for Choosing a Doctor Who Treats Back Neck or Back Pain

There are lots of options available for treating back neck and back pain. The most important step is proper diagnosis of your condition.

  1. Thorough evaluation to find the cause(s) of your pain.
  2. Determine what kind of doctor is the best for you to see and help you to the proper specialist if necessary.

We understand that you need to explore all your options when you look for a doctor to treat your neck and back pain.

At Precision Spinal Care we are happy to help you determine the best way to address your specific needs. If we can help, we will. If we determine it is best for you to see a different specialist, we will help you find a doctor who can address your needs.

Call our office at 757-382-5555 to speak to the doctor or set up a consultation. You can also set up an appointment through our webpage.

Your peace of mind and your spine are our first concerns!

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