What Is a Spine Specialist and When Should You See One

Back & Neck Pain ChiroCare News Chiropractic Therapy / December 22, 2022
Hand emerging from a white lab coat sleeve points to an image of a spine in a laptop screen.

Experts report that nearly 80% of Americans experience back pain regularly, and receiving treatment from a spine specialist can help if the condition is severe enough. The term “spine specialist” refers to a group of orthopedic doctors who have completed medical school to earn an M.D. Back and spine specialists fall under the orthopedics category, which is the branch of medical practice that focuses specifically on the body’s musculoskeletal system. If you’re looking for a “spine specialist near me,” it’s essential to know what these doctors do versus what treatments a chiropractor can perform.

Chiropractors understand the anatomy of the spine and treat the spine and musculoskeletal system and receive different credentials. They hold a D.C. (a doctorate of chiropractic) from a Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) accredited college. While medical school takes four years to complete, followed by a 3-7 year residency, chiropractic school takes approximately 3-4 of schooling following undergrad, during which students complete clinical hours. With the difference in credentials comes critical differences in how each spine specialist can treat patients.

At ChiroCare of Florida, all our treatment providers hold D.C.s, doctorates of chiropractic care. The Florida Board of Chiropractic Medicine licenses them. The treatment we provide differs from spine specialists, who focus on one specific injury, condition, or disease. Instead, our chiropractors focus on whole-body and spinal wellness and the nervous system, taking a more holistic approach.

Keep reading to learn more about what a spine specialist is, how they come to earn their credentials, what they do, when you may need to see an M.D. and more.

What Is the Difference between a Spine Specialist and a Chiropractor?

There are crucial differences between spine specialists and chiropractors. While chiropractors may specialize in aligning the spine and musculoskeletal system, they don’t hold the same privileges as medical spine specialists. As M.D.,s spine specialists can prescribe medication, order blood work, utilize diagnostic equipment such as MRIs and CT scans, and usually perform surgery.

They typically treat more severe conditions than chiropractors with more invasive techniques. An individual may see a chiropractor first to find relief before being referred to a spine specialist for further diagnostics and more aggressive treatment. The goal for both these M.D.s and chiropractors is always to use the most non-invasive treatment option possible, which is why chiropractors are often the first line of defense regarding back pain. However, there may be exceptions. Individuals involved in serious car accidents falls, or sports injuries may receive immediate imaging at a hospital that indicates a spine specialist is necessary immediately.

Meanwhile, chiropractors do not hold the same extensive medical privileges and are not the first line of treatment for those who experience significant and traumatic injuries. A person who experiences pain in the musculoskeletal system from a minor injury or everyday aches and pains will likely see a chiropractor first. Usually, chiropractors can treat this type of pain or injury without referring a patient to a medical doctor. Additionally, chiropractors provide a more comprehensive range of holistic services, such as massage therapy, physical therapy, pain management, and more.

A spine specialist will see and treat a patient for a specific injury or condition and address just that. A chiropractor will evaluate the whole body and help those who don’t require invasive treatment to heal and maintain daily wellness.

How Do You Become a Spine Specialist?

As medical doctors and surgeons, becoming a spine specialist is difficult. There are many requirements you must fulfill that take many years. First, a back and spine specialist must receive a pre-medical undergraduate degree. They cannot have another major, such as finance or engineering, and then go to medical school.

After completing a pre-medical degree, they must apply to medical school, which may include pre-requisite testing to establish adequate knowledge in the field. Medical school lasts four years. After graduating from medical school, spine specialists must also complete a residency program. These programs generally last five years, though they may take as long as seven years.

Many spine specialists then complete a fellowship program–which is voluntary after residency. A fellowship program allows them to receive training from a sub-specialty (such as orthopedics and spinal treatment) and lasts for one year. This program enables doctors to acquire more experience working directly with the musculoskeletal system from experienced surgeons in the field, improving their skills even further.

Once these requirements are fulfilled, spine specialists may begin applying at hospitals and medical practices to start treating patients.

What Does a Spine Specialist Do?

A back and spine specialist completes many different procedures, all with the same goal. They aim to eliminate or decrease back pain through medical treatment. They target a specific condition or injury before referring patients to lower levels of care to continue treatment. They often treat many of the same conditions as chiropractors but for those requiring more intensive care. Their treatment may result from a traumatic injury or for conditions that do not improve with less invasive forms of therapy from providers like chiropractors.

Spine specialists see patients with conditions including:

It’s essential to note that spine specialists only treat injuries and conditions specifically in the spine. Neurosurgeons, on the other hand, may treat spine conditions resulting from brain issues.

When Do You Need to See a Spine Specialist?

If you’re experiencing back pain, have a chronic condition, or have acute injury, you may be wondering if you need to see a back and spine specialist or a chiropractor. The most important thing to note is that if another M.D., such as an emergency room doctor or your primary care physician, refers you to a spine specialist, you follow their recommendation to receive proper treatment.

If you don’t have a severe injury, are looking to manage pain that results from a chronic condition, or are cleared to move on to a lower level of care following surgery or treatment from an M.D., you may be able to see a chiropractor instead.

However, you may need to see a spine specialist if:

Usually, patients do not see a spine specialist as their first provider. Instead, they undergo treatment from a primary care physician, urgent care center, or chiropractor before being referred to the M.D. Some insurance policies may require that patients receive such referrals before making an appointment.

Spine Surgery vs. Holistic Care

Back and spine specialists and chiropractors all want the same thing. They want their patients to live pain-free lives, relieved of their back and neck pain. However, their forms of back pain treatment are different. Spine surgery is often saved as a last resort. Many individuals prefer to try holistic treatment methods, such as chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, and more, before considering surgery.

The reality is that surgery, particularly of the spine, comes with significant risks. Patients will have extended recovery times and a greater chance of post-surgical infection. Additionally, they’re likely to experience significant pain following surgery before they see an improvement in symptoms.

On the other hand, holistic care from a chiropractor requires no downtime. Patients are not likely to experience significant pain after an appointment, and there is no risk of post-surgical infection. This puts many patients’ minds at ease and is more appealing if they don’t have a severe medical condition. Chiropractors help many people who experience pain associated with minor injuries, conditions such as migraines, and those experiencing pain from their everyday lifestyles.

Schedule an Appointment Today

If you’re suffering from back and neck pain, but do not require the intervention of a spine specialist, contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our D.C.s (doctorates of chiropractic) today. We’ll evaluate your pain or injury comprehensively to determine if you may benefit from chiropractic care or need a more intensive scope of treatment. You don’t have to live with back pain–call us today.

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