Ask Dr. Sabers: When Should I Have My Spine Pain Medically Evaluated?

When you feel neck or back discomfort, how long should you wait before consulting the Summit Orthopedics spine team? Dr. Sabers shares his approach to evaluating spine pain, with a list of red flags to watch for.

spine medical evaluation

Back pain affects many of us. Those twinges can often be treated successfully at home with hot and cold packs, exercise, and medication. But how do you know when pain is serious enough to require spine medical evaluation? Interventional spine specialist Dr. Steven Sabers shares some guidelines to help you decide when it’s time to call a Summit spine specialist.

How to evaluate pain

“I take a two-pronged approach to evaluating pain,” explains Dr. Sabers. “First, think about the impact of the pain on your quality of life. Is the pain annoying, limiting, or disabling? If you’ve got disabling pain that prevents you from working or sleeping, it’s time to call us and make an appointment to be medically evaluated. Limiting pain—the kind of pain that keeps you from playing with your children or participating in activities that are meaningful to you—may also be worth a phone call to arrange for a spine medical evaluation. If pain is a simple annoyance—the kind of pain that you don’t want or need to medicate on a daily basis—then you may want to give it some time to see if the discomfort will resolve without medical treatment.”

Look for red flags

In addition to considering the impact of pain on quality of life, Dr. Sabers says that it’s important for people to be aware of red flags—symptoms that can be markers of a possible serious underlying condition. He identifies a number of obvious red flags; if you experience any of these in conjunction with back pain, it’s time to take the pain seriously and come in for a spine medical evaluation.

  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Nocturnal pain that interrupts sleep.
  • Fever, night sweats, and chills that may be signaling an underlying infection.
  • A history of cancer.
  • Functional weakness that could signal pain inhibition or nerve injury.

“It’s also important for people to know that if symptoms become constant, or are associated with arm weakness or numbness, they should consult a Summit spine specialist without delay,” Dr. Sabers notes.

Seek care and a spine medical evaluation early

“One of the things I’d like people to understand is that the longer pain has been present, the harder it is to treat effectively,” says Dr. Sabers. “I almost never see trauma-related pain within two weeks of a motor vehicle accident—and I wish I could. Typically, I don’t see these patients until they are three years out from an accident, and struggling. Seeking early intervention—usually physical therapy—can be enough to restore normal movement patterns, reclaim flexibility, and get you back to moving normally before you learn pain behaviors, altered sleep patterns, and other ingrained habits that make pain more challenging to treat. That’s my message: it’s better to pursue treatment sooner rather than later.”

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise

Summit Orthopedics’ Spine Care program is recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for the comprehensive expertise of our patient-centered care. Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.

Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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