So you woke up with an achy back or felt a twinge at the gym. For many people, a call to the chiropractor might be the next step. “About 22 million Americans visit chiropractors annually. Of these, 7.7 million, or 35%, are seeking relief from back pain from various causes, including accidents, sports injuries, and muscle strains,” said WebMD.
But how do you know if you need to consult a medical doctor specializing in the treatment of back pain? The following guide will help make your decision easier.
General Pain and Stiffness
Waking up with soreness or experiencing stiffness for a few days is typically the type of back pain that sends people to the chiropractor. An adjustment may provide some comfort. However, if the issue is recurring or not responding well (or fast) enough, a visit to your doctor may be indicated. There could be more serious or underlying conditions causing your back pain.
Treatment at the chiropractor will typically include a physical examination, X-rays and lab tests depending on the issue, followed by spinal manipulation, which is “generally considered a safe, effective treatment for acute low back pain, the type of sudden injury that results from moving furniture or getting tackled,” said WebMD. “Acute back pain, which is more common than chronic pain, lasts no more than six weeks and typically gets better on its own.”
For the treatment of chronic back pain or other kinds of ailments, a trip to the doctor to diagnose the issue and develop a plan is recommended.
No matter what your condition, WebMD reminds that it’s always a good idea to take precautions. “To be safe, always check with your medical doctor to make sure your condition will benefit from chiropractic or other pain relief alternatives,” they said.
Because chiropractic care generally involves alignment procedures, it makes sense that this type of treatment would be sought out after a sports injury, car accident, or some other kind of trauma. But there may be additional or underlying injuries that should be treated by a doctor. In some cases, spinal manipulation performed by a chiropractor could actually worsen these conditions rather than help them.
Keep in mind also that the “sudden, controlled force” of adjustments could actually have a detrimental effect, depending on the injury. “If the source of your pain is a slipped or herniated disc, in some cases spinal manipulation can actually make things worse, especially if it’s not performed correctly,” said Health Magazine. “If you’ve got any numbness or tingling, or if you have cancer, you should skip the chiropractor altogether. If not, see your doctor and ask her to refer you to one if she thinks it might help.”
Back Pain in Addition to Other Issues
Experiencing back pain that is accompanied by other symptoms can indicate a serious or even deadly condition. If you also have a fever, numbness in the back or legs, loss of bladder or bowel control, or unexplained pain, skip the chiropractor and get to the doctor as soon as possible. You don’t want to delay the care you need by seeing a chiropractor first.
Chronic Back Pain
While studies have shown chiropractic care to be effective for some acute back and neck pain, chronic pain may be another story. Experts advise that any back pain that isn’t better after six weeks is now considered chronic, and should be addressed by a good spine expert.
In some cases, chronic pain and serious conditions like herniated discs, spinal stenosis, vertebral fractures, and degenerative disc disease will require surgery, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The good news for those suffering from chronic pain are the advances in minimally invasive surgical techniques that mean treating chronic back pain is easier than ever, with outpatient surgical treatments, small incisions, and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.
For more information, contact DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments for chronic back pain, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain.