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Types of Spine Doctors


Updated June 30, 2014

Types of Doctors that can treat spine
Dougal Waters Collection/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Family and General Practitioners:

Your family doctor is usually the first place to go with a nagging back problem. Family doctors see a range of health problems including back and neck pain. If you have a serious problem, your doctor will probably order diagnostic tests, refer you to a specialist and/or help with short-term pain management by prescribing medication.

Studies show that family doctors do not easily adapt their practices to new back pain treatments. It may be helpful to take a pro-active approach with your doctor when determining the best form of treatment, by researching first and asking pointed questions.


Consult a general pediatrician for your child from birth until early adult years. Pediatricians provide diagnosis and treatment for a range of childhood health problems including back pain and injuries. The pediatrician is the family doctor for a child.

Emergency Room Visits:

It is time to go to the emergency room if you have problems with bowel or bladder function, or if your legs grow progressively weaker. These are the symptoms of cauda equine syndrome, one of the few life-threatening back problems. Also, if you suspect that someone has a serious neck injury (such as after a car accident or fall) call 911 and do not attempt to move the person, unless failing to do so would result in death.


An orthopedic doctor is one who specializes in problems of the musculoskeletal system, from head to foot, including the spine. An orthopedist might address conditions such as ruptured disks, sciatica, scoliosis or low back pain


A rheumatologist will treat arthritis and musculoskeletal problems, including back and neck problems such as spinal stenosis, and spinal arthritis. Rheumatologists also treat diseases that are related to back pain such as osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and other forms of back pain. According to the American College of Rheumatology, rheumatologists treat more than 100 different diseases. It is the job of the rheumatologist to uncover the reason for swelling and pain.


A neurologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats problems with the nervous system. Much of this field is focused on people who have had a stroke or have Parkinson’s disease and similar brain related diseases. Neurologists might be the doctor of choice if your back or neck pain is chronic and longstanding, as these physicians are experts in the origins of pain. A neurologist will examine the nerves and how they are functioning to provide balance, movement, sensation, strength and reflexes. Neurologists can be either M.D.s or Osteopaths. They do not perform spine surgery.


A neurosurgeon specializes in diseases and conditions of the central nervous system, and the nerves that branch out from the spine. A neurosurgeon might perform surgery on the brain, the spinal cord or on the spine itself. While neurosurgeons do provide non-surgical management of back pain, you may be referred to one after exhausting all your conservative care options, rather than before. According to the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, neurosurgeons often act as consultants to other doctors. This is because they have extensive knowledge on how to diagnose all types of neurological disease.


Chiropractic is a hands on, alternative medicine discipline that views and treats health through the effect of spinal anatomy on the functioning of the body. Chiropractors consider their work a healing art and science which aims to remove interruptions to the flow of nerve transmission.


Osteopathy is a branch of medicine developed by Andrew Taylor Still. The D.O., or Osteopath, uses her or his hands to diagnose and treat illness based on imbalances present in the musculoskeletal system.


The phyisatrist is a medical doctor who is trained to and has time to listen to his or her patients. Physiatry is a growing field of medicine focusing on physical rehabilitation for all kinds of conditions and injuries. Whether your back problem is due to posture, muscles, your nervous system and/or your intervertebral discs, the physiatrist is equipped to help you. Quite often, the physiatrist will coordinate your team of specialists for you, so that your treatment plan effectively addresses your specific needs.

(Sept 2002). A Career in Orthopaedics. Retrieved February 19, 2007, from American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Web site: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/fact/thr_report.cfm?Thread_ID=375&topcategory=General%20Information

What is Neurological Surgery?. Retrieved February 19, 2007, from Congress of Neurological Surgeons Web site: http://www.neurosurgeon.org/public/index.asp

Dictionary of Cancer Terms neurologist. Retrieved February 19, 2007, from National Cancer Institute Web site: http://www.cancer.gov/Templates/db_alpha.aspx?CdrID=46267

Gould, H.J. III, M.D., Ph.D. (2007). Understanding Pain: What It is, Why It Happens and How It's Managed. New York: Demos.

What is a Rheumatologist?. Retrieved February 19, 2007, from American College of Rheumatology Web site: http://www.rheumatology.org/public/rheumatologist.asp

(Oct 2006). Occupational Outlook Handbook Physicians and Surgeons. Retrieved February 19, 2007, from U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statisitcs Web site: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos074.htm

Breen, A., Austin, H., Campion-Smith, C., Carr, E., & Mann, E. (Jan 2007). "You feel so hopeless": A qualitative study of GP management of acute back pain.. Eur J Pain, 11, Retrieved Feb 18 2007,from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=16434220&query_hl=11&itool=pubmed_docsum.

Bishop, P.B., Wing, P.C. (May-Jun 2006). Knowledge transfer in family physicians managing patients with acute low back pain: a prospective randomized control trial. Spine J, 6(3), Retrieved Feb 18 2007, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=16651222&query_hl=11&itool=pubmed_docsum

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