If you have back or neck pain, you may wonder whether you need to see a specialist. Why not just go to your family doctor or a general orthopedist? Any good doctor will tell you that the spine is complex and requires special attention. When it comes to spine care, you should begin with your family doctor, but if the condition isn’t improving in a few weeks, or especially if you also have radiating arm or leg pain, then a specialist is the only way to go.
A specialist is defined as a physician whose practice is limited to a particular branch of medicine or surgery, especially one who is certified by a board of physicians. All physicians have undergone a residency training program after medical school in a general area of medicine. Usually a specialist has undergone a formal fellowship training program, after residency, in a very specific field.
Spine specialists, both surgical and nonsurgical, spend the majority of their time diagnosing and treating spinal disorders. It’s our passion—it’s what we do. We use judgment based on years of experience to determine which procedures will work best in a given situation. We’re up to date on new techniques, and we know how to use available technology. At Emory, our world-class physiatrists (nonsurgical spine physicians) and our spine surgeons are perfecting tried-and-true methods and pioneering new techniques every day.
When you see a nonsurgical spine doctor, or physiatrist, for back pain, that doctor has been trained specifically to diagnose and treat your pain with all options short of surgery. And the right early treatment can lead to a faster, more complete recovery.
If, after diagnosis, you find that you are in the very small subset of patients who do need spine surgery, you want a surgeon who operates on spines every day—a specialist who can determine the best surgery for your unique situation and has the skills, an understanding of the available technology, and the surgical hours logged to do it right.
At the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, we take the specialist concept to new levels. Not only do our patients have the most qualified spine specialists in the country working for them—they have all of them working together as a team, sharing ideas and information about patients. Our patients benefit not just from the collective wisdom of the physician they’re seeing, but also from the experience of many other physicians whom they have not seen. We make sure every patient receives the highest level of technical care and that the highest level of expertise and decision-making go into formulating each treatment plan. Moreover, the Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital (EUOSH), which opened in 2008, has the highest patient satisfaction ratings of any hospital in the United States (as measured by Press-Ganey, one of the largest independent surveyors of hospitals).
Are you thinking about seeing a spine specialist? Have you already benefited from specialized spine care? We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.
About Scott D. Boden, MD:
Dr. Boden is the Director of the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, is an internationally renowned surgeon, lecturer, and teacher, and the driving force behind the Emory University Orthopedics and Spine Hospital (EUOSH). Dr. Boden started practicing at Emory in 1992.