America is a nation living with back pain. More than 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain, while 16 million adults (8 percent of adult Americans) live with chronic back pain. Many of these people brush off back pain as an anomaly – they blame poor sleep positions or think it’s a natural part of aging. They don’t think it’s worth seeing a doctor for treatment.
However, your back pain might be caused by more than just a poor night’s sleep. You may have a treatable condition that is preventing you from moving comfortably or enjoying your favorite hobbies.
You don’t have to live in pain. Here are a few signs that it is time to see a spine specialist and take the first steps toward healing.
What Can Cause Back Pain?
Back pain has many causes and most people write off back aches as muscle spasms or minor issues. However, you may have a treatable condition in your spine that is currently causing you pain and discomfort.
To better understand back pain, it helps to learn how your back and spine work. Your body is supported by your spine, a collection of 33 vertebrae (bones) that stack on top of each other from your neck to your hips and allow you to move. Your spine is also home to a canal of nerves that extends to your fingers and toes, allowing your body to communicate with your brain. These nerves help you move, touch, and feel pain (like a stubbed toe).
Back pain occurs when there is something wrong with your spine or the areas surrounding it. Pain often comes when part of your spine hits the nerves that run down your back. It also occurs when spinal discs – small cushions that work as shock absorbers between your vertebrae – are broken or pushed out of alignment. Finally, you may experience back pain in the form of sore muscles, but this last option is often temporary.
Spinal issues can present themselves in multiple ways. As you can see, the source of back pain isn’t always easy to diagnose. If you live with pain, it’s important to see a spine specialist to address the underlying cause of your pain.
8 Top Reasons to See a Spine Specialist
Back pain comes in many forms and you may experience other side effects in your body that are caused by spinal issues. Here are a few signs that it is time to see a spine specialist.
1. Lasting Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is ongoing and typically lasts longer than six months. The pain might not maintain the same levels or be present each day, but it becomes part of your life. You try to live with the pain or make changes to your life because of it.
Chronic pain can come from an injury that didn’t heal properly or can present itself over time. If you experience chronic back pain, you need to see a spine specialist.
2. Unable to Live Your Life
It is time to see a doctor if you start giving up your favorite activities because of the pain. If you love dancing but can’t twist your body and move to the beat, then you need to meet with a spinal expert. If you can no longer work because the pain is too severe, then you need to get help.
By seeking treatment for your pain, you are taking the first steps to enjoy your life and resume your favorite activities.
3. Weakness or Numbness in Your Feet, Arms, or Legs
Spinal issues can lead to symptoms and issues throughout your body. This is because your vertebrae and spinal discs can impact your nerve canal, causing pain and tingling in your extremities.
If you notice that your arms or legs occasionally feel numb, you may be experiencing spinal issues. You might also experience tingling in your fingers or toes or a shooting pain that starts from your shoulder or your hips and travels down your body. Make sure to tell your spinal specialist about these symptoms, as they are useful clues in helping them reach a diagnosis.
4. Unable to Stand for Long Periods
If you find that you are too weak to stand for long periods, talk to a doctor. There could be many reasons for this lack of endurance and not being able to stand that can significantly impact your life, preventing you from working or limiting your favorite activities. You shouldn’t have to miss family events or stop fun hobbies because of bodily weakness.
5. Decreasing Range of Motion
Your range of motion refers to your ability to move your body. If you drop something, can you comfortably bend over to pick it up? Can you twist your body to look when you hear a noise? Can you turn your head when someone is talking to you?
People who live with pain often experience a reduced range of motion. They can’t move as much as they used to or they avoid movement due to pain. If you can’t move like you used to, see a spine specialist.
6. Losing Control of the Urinary Bladder or Bowel Function
Along with tingling in your toes and fingers, you may experience other symptoms that you might not immediately connect to back pain. When your nerves are affected or damaged by protruding spinal discs or bone spurs, you might notice a lack of control over your body. One symptom of this is a lack of urinary or bowel control. A spinal surgeon will work to remove the pressure from your nerves so you can better control your bladder and bowel function.
7. Pain Brings on Fever, Chills, Night Sweats, and Weight Loss
You may notice other changes in your life because of your back pain, like reduced appetite or changes in body temperature. This is your body warning you that something is wrong. Listen to these symptoms and see help, because they likely won’t go away on their own.
8. Medications Are Not Helping
If you have to rely on pain medication to treat your back pain – or the pain medication isn’t working to lessen your symptoms – then you need to talk with a doctor. The pain could get worse over time or you could develop a dependency on the medication to get through the day. A spinal surgeon will work to address the issue rather than try to mitigate the side effects.
Should I See a Spine Surgeon or a Chiropractor?
If you experience frequent back pain, it is better to see a spine surgeon before you visit a chiropractor. An experienced surgeon will explore every option before recommending an operation to a patient, starting with non-invasive treatment options first. However, if these don’t work, they may need to recommend surgery to address the source of your discomfort.
Chiropractors are not authorized to perform surgery on patients. While your spinal surgeon may recommend visiting a chiropractor or physical therapist, it is better to obtain a complete diagnosis and treatment plan through a spinal surgeon first. Know what is causing your pain so you can treat the issues effectively.
What Will a Spine Surgeon Do?
When you decide to meet with a spine surgeon, you can enjoy a multi-step process to identify and treat your back pain. If you meet with an industry-leading expert like Dr. Todd H. Lanman, founder of the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center, he will leave no stone unturned in understanding the state of your spinal health.
First, Dr. Lanman will review your lifestyle factors and symptoms. He will ask you when you feel pain, ask you to describe it, and learn how you treat it. He will ask about your work, hobbies, and home life. These questions paint a complete picture of what your pain is like and what might trigger it.
The next step is to diagnose the issue. Dr. Lanman might order x-rays, MRIs, and other tests to get a clear picture of your back. His ultimate goal is to understand what is causing your symptoms in order to treat them. By ordering multiple tests, Dr. Lanman can be sure of his diagnosis.
With a diagnosis in hand, you and Dr. Lanman can move forward with a treatment plan. He always starts with non-surgical options. You might start completing daily physical therapy exercises or using heat and cold therapy to reduce pain. By approaching non-surgical options first, Dr. Lanman can see how your body responds to treatment and better understand the severity of your condition.
If your pain persists, Dr. Lanman may move forward with surgery. This could involve an artificial disc replacement (ADR) procedure, a discectomy, or a laminoplasty depending on the source of your pain. The ultimate goal is to reduce your pain levels while maintaining your range of motion.
Contact Dr. Lanman Today
Even if the back pain you experience is mild, it’s still worth your time to see a spine specialist. Dr. Lanman can help you better understand your condition and give you steps to reduce your pain levels. He will work as a partner guiding you to a pain-free life without losing your range of motion. Surgery isn’t always the best option to reduce back pain, and Dr. Lanman will choose a course of action that is ideal for you.