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.
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 is home to the area’s top spine specialists for neck and back pain treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or pain, the spine team at Summit Orthopedics will work with you to confirm a diagnosis and develop an appropriate conservative treatment plan to address your problems. If nonsurgical treatments fail to support your lifestyle goals, fellowship-trained spine surgeons are here to consult with you and discuss appropriate surgical options.
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