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Should I See a Doctor or a Chiropractor for Back Pain?

June 11, 2024

When your back pain becomes too much to bear, you’re faced with a choice — is it time to see a doctor or a chiropractor?

“Both chiropractors and doctors can treat common causes of back pain,” answers Gregory Kuzmik, MD, a neurosurgeon at the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute. “But doctors can offer a wider range of treatments based on a specific diagnosis.”

If you’re ready for back pain relief, Dr. Kuzmik shares the next steps.

How a chiropractors helps with back pain.

Chiropractors treat musculoskeletal problems, including back pain, with various manual treatments.

Treatment may include spine manipulations. These quick thrusting maneuvers try to improve motion and function.

Chiropractic therapies may also involve:

  • Stretching
  • Sustained pressure
  • Joint manipulations

> Related: 4 Signs It’s Time to See a Doctor for Your Back Pain

But a chiropractor can’t treat every kind of back pain.

“Sometimes, the manual therapies of a chiropractor may not be appropriate for you,” says Dr. Kuzmik.

For example, spinal manipulations can injure patients with spinal cord compression.

“Some causes of back pain are not safe to treat with chiropractic therapies and may worsen without appropriate treatment,” he adds.

How a doctor helps with back pain.

“While chiropractors treat back pain with manual therapies, doctors can diagnose the cause of back pain and provide a wider range of treatments for it,” says Dr. Kuzmik.

Your treatment plan may include:

  • Prescription medications.
  • Injections.
  • Surgery when necessary.

“Physical therapy is often one of the first steps in managing common cases of back pain,” adds Dr. Kuzmik. “It can improve flexibility and strengthen the muscles that support the back.”

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An evaluation from a doctor is important if you have these “red flag” symptoms.

Some back pain may indicate a more serious condition.

These symptoms may include:

  • Back pain that travels into the legs or occurs with numbness or weakness.
  • Back pain that persists after a traumatic injury.
  • Back pain associated with fevers or unexpected weight loss.

“If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor for an assessment,” says Dr. Kuzmik.

Your primary care provider is a good first stop for back pain.

Many of us deal with back pain.

Even though it’s a common complaint, Dr. Kuzmik urges you not to write it off.

“Your primary care doctor is the best place to start,” he says. “They can assess your symptoms, order the appropriate tests, prescribe treatments and make referrals to a spinal specialist if needed to help you feel better.”