“Back problems and discomfort symptoms are a common ailment that many types of healthcare providers diagnose and treat it. Can knowing a little about what each back pain specialist does and what they have to offer help in choosing a provider?”

Back Pain Specialists

Back Pain Specialists

Nowadays individuals have options for treating back pain. Primary healthcare providers, general practitioners, pediatricians, and emergency room workers are usually the first to examine the injury or problem. If they are unable to properly diagnose or treat the injury, they will refer the individual to a specialist. Specialists include:

  • Osteopaths
  • Chiropractors
  • Orthopedists
  • Rheumatologists
  • Neurologists
  • Neurosurgeons.

They specialize in chronic conditions and diseases like arthritis or problems like herniated discs. Complementary and alternative providers treat individuals solely or with help from a care team. They look at the whole body and focus on improving overall function.

Family and General Practitioners

When neck or back pain begins a regular doctor that’s usually a family or general practitioner/GP or primary care provider PCP is a recommended place to start. They will:

  • Order diagnostic tests.
  • Recommend exercises and stretches.
  • Prescribe medication.
  • Refer the patient to a physical therapist or other back pain specialist.

However, studies suggest general providers can be uninformed and slow to adopt new back treatments. (Paul B. Bishop, Peter C. Wing. 2006) It is recommended to research possible treatment options, ask a lot of questions during an appointment, and ask or request a referral to a specialist.


Pediatricians diagnose and treat children. They cover a wide range of issues including back problems and injuries. As with a general practitioner or primary care provider, a child’s pediatrician is the place to start. Depending on the child’s needs, they’ll refer them to the proper specialist.

Emergency Healthcare Providers

When there is serious neck or back trauma, individuals need to go to the emergency room. Trauma can include automobile collisions, sports accidents, work accidents, and/or personal home accidents. Someone with a possible spinal injury should not be moved. (W Yisheng, et al., 2007) Go to the ER if there is back pain with loss of bowel or bladder control, or the legs become progressively weaker. These are symptoms of an emergency condition known as cauda equina syndrome. (American Association of Neurological Surgeons. 2023)


Orthopedists and orthopedic surgeons treat the musculoskeletal system, which includes:

  • Muscles
  • Bones
  • Joints
  • Connective tissues
  • Cartilage

Common orthopedic issues include:

  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Bursitis
  • Tendonitis
  • Ruptured discs
  • Nerve impingement
  • Scoliosis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis

Orthopedics can overlap with other specialties. As orthopedists and rheumatologists both treat arthritis and orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons do some of the same procedures that include spinal fusions and discectomies.


A rheumatologist treats autoimmune, inflammatory, and musculoskeletal conditions that can include different types of arthritis, lupus, and Sjogren’s syndrome. A primary care provider may refer a patient to a rheumatologist if they have symptoms that include:

  • Sacroiliitis – inflammation of the sacroiliac joint at the base of the spine.
  • Axial spondylosis – a form of spinal arthritis.
  • Axial spondylosis – spinal arthritis that causes the bones to fuse together.
  • Rheumatologists can also treat spinal stenosis or advanced osteoarthritis as they overlap with orthopedists.


A neurologist specializes in the function of the nervous system. They treat disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that include:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic back or neck pain

They are experts in the origins of pain. (David Borsook. 2012) However, a neurologist does not perform spine surgery.


A neurosurgeon specializes in nervous system surgical procedures that include the brain, spine, and spinal cord. However, neurosurgeons do not provide overall treatment for back pain because they are usually the last to be seen after exhausting all other treatment options.


An osteopath is a licensed physician who practices medicine using conventional treatments and osteopathic manipulative medicine. They have the same education as an MD plus 500 hours of musculoskeletal system studies. (National Library of Medicine. 2022) They take the same exams and are licensed as an MD. Many osteopaths are primary care providers. For back pain, they will focus on:

  • Posture rehabilitation and training.
  • Stretching
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Spinal manipulation

The goal is to relieve pain and muscle tension, increase mobility, and improve musculoskeletal function.


Physiatrists are holistic providers that focus on physical function. They can be thought of as a primary care provider plus a physical therapist. These back pain specialists provide rehabilitation for various types of conditions and injuries including:

  • Back pain
  • Sports injuries
  • Stroke
  • Often they will coordinate a team of specialists to develop a targeted treatment plan.


Chiropractic is a hands-on alternative medicine. The goal is to restore neuromusculoskeletal function by realigning the spine to its proper form. They do this with spinal manipulations, non-surgical mechanical decompression, traction, and massage techniques. (Michael Schneider, et al., 2016)

  • The purpose of most chiropractic adjustments is to relax and retrain tight muscles and increase flexibility.
  • Chiropractic helps to relieve stiff muscles and restore range of motion.

Individuals may not be referred to a chiropractor if they:

  • Have loose-joints
  • Have connective tissue problems or conditions.
  • Have osteoporosis/thinning bones

All types of back pain specialists provide various forms of therapy that may be able to help.

Spinal Decompression in Depth


Bishop, P. B., & Wing, P. C. (2006). Knowledge transfer in family physicians managing patients with acute low back pain: a prospective randomized control trial. The spine journal : official journal of the North American Spine Society, 6(3), 282–288. doi.org/10.1016/j.spinee.2005.10.008

Yisheng, W., Fuying, Z., Limin, W., Junwei, L., Guofu, P., & Weidong, W. (2007). First aid and treatment for cervical spinal cord injury with fracture and dislocation. Indian journal of orthopaedics, 41(4), 300–304. doi.org/10.4103/0019-5413.36991

American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Caudia Equina Syndrome.

Borsook D. (2012). Neurological diseases and pain. Brain : a journal of neurology, 135(Pt 2), 320–344. doi.org/10.1093/brain/awr271

National Library of Medicine. Doctor of osteopathic medicine.

Schneider, M., Murphy, D., & Hartvigsen, J. (2016). Spine Care as a Framework for the Chiropractic Identity. Journal of chiropractic humanities, 23(1), 14–21. doi.org/10.1016/j.echu.2016.09.004

Professional Scope of Practice *

The information herein on "A Guide to Different Types of Back Pain Specialists" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Specialties: Stopping the PAIN! We Specialize in Treating Severe Sciatica, Neck-Back Pain, Whiplash, Headaches, Knee Injuries, Sports Injuries, Dizziness, Poor Sleep, Arthritis. We use advanced proven therapies focused on optimal Mobility, Posture Control, Deep Health Instruction, Integrative & Functional Medicine, Functional Fitness, Chronic Degenerative Disorder Treatment Protocols, and Structural Conditioning. We also integrate Wellness Nutrition, Wellness Detoxification Protocols and Functional Medicine for chronic musculoskeletal disorders. We use effective "Patient Focused Diet Plans", Specialized Chiropractic Techniques, Mobility-Agility Training, Cross-Fit Protocols, and the Premier "PUSH Functional Fitness System" to treat patients suffering from various injuries and health problems. Ultimately, I am here to serve my patients and community as a Chiropractor passionately restoring functional life and facilitating living through increased mobility. Purpose & Passions: I am a Doctor of Chiropractic specializing in progressive cutting-edge therapies and functional rehabilitation procedures focused on clinical physiology, total health, functional strength training, functional medicine, and complete conditioning. We focus on restoring normal body functions after neck, back, spinal and soft tissue injuries. We use Specialized Chiropractic Protocols, Wellness Programs, Functional & Integrative Nutrition, Agility & Mobility Fitness Training and Cross-Fit Rehabilitation Systems for all ages. As an extension to dynamic rehabilitation, we too offer our patients, disabled veterans, athletes, young and elder a diverse portfolio of strength equipment, high-performance exercises and advanced agility treatment options. We have teamed up with the cities' premier doctors, therapist and trainers in order to provide high-level competitive athletes the options to push themselves to their highest abilities within our facilities. We've been blessed to use our methods with thousands of El Pasoans over the last 3 decades allowing us to restore our patients' health and fitness while implementing researched non-surgical methods and functional wellness programs. Our programs are natural and use the body's ability to achieve specific measured goals, rather than introducing harmful chemicals, controversial hormone replacement, un-wanted surgeries, or addictive drugs. We want you to live a functional life that is fulfilled with more energy, a positive attitude, better sleep, and less pain. Our goal is to ultimately empower our patients to maintain the healthiest way of living. With a bit of work, we can achieve optimal health together, no matter the age, ability or disability.