Back and neck pain are among the most common reasons why people seek medical attention.
In some instances, this type of discomfort is a one-time inconvenience. For other patients, spine-related pain will be a frequent annoyance that impacts quality of life in some day. It’s situations like this that often call for the level of care typically provided by a spine specialist in Los Angeles.
- Oftentimes, spine pain is accompanied by multiple symptoms that can suggest a variety of possible sources.
- Sorting through symptoms and pinpointing a likely pain source is just part of what a spine specialist usually does for patients.
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Performing More Detailed Tests
An initial examination by a spine specialist in Los Angeles typically often involves range of motion testing, assessing flexibility and mobility, and a detailed discussion of symptoms. Patients may be asked things like “When did symptoms start?” and “What movements or actions seem to trigger symptoms the most?” to narrow down the focus to certain issues such as a herniated disc in the lower back or soft tissues in the neck. To confirm a diagnosis, a spine specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests:
- Lab tests to rule out infections
- X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans
- Nerve conduction studies
- Muscle tests
A dye study called a myelogram is sometimes performed to identify which nerves in the spine are compressed. The test involves an X-ray and a special contrast dye so the fluid-filled space between bones of the spine (spinal canal) can be seen. This type of testing is sometimes done to look for tumors or get a better look at a herniated disc to determine how the disc material is affecting nearby nerve roots. While the dye is still in the patient’s body, a CT scan is often done to provide a more detailed view than what can be seen with an X-ray.
Recommending Personalized Treatment Plans
Having an accurate diagnosis to work from can make it less challenging to put together a personalized treatment plan for patients. With medication, which doesn’t treat the actual source of spine pain, the goal is to ease discomfort enough to allow patients to explore other treatment options that may strengthen spine-supporting muscles. For patients not responding well to the use of oral pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, or anti-depressants, injections can provide a more direct type of relief.
Epidural injections, for instance, are placed into an area around the spinal cord referred to as the epidural space. A selective nerve root block is a type of injection that includes a numbing medication and a type of steroid medication delivered to a specific nerve root or spinal nerve. Injections can be diagnostic in nature if the main purpose is to identify which nerve is affected. Injections may be therapeutic if a patient is experiencing relief following the initial injection.
A spine specialist in Los Angeles may also refer patients to a physical therapist to try different exercises to improve the strength of muscle groups that either directly or indirectly support the spine. PT can also be passive and involve techniques that do not require direct patient participation, such as massage therapy, electrotherapy techniques like TENS units, and hot and cold therapy.
Exploring Surgical Options When Necessary
Seeing a spine specialist in Los Angeles doesn’t necessarily mean surgery will be discussed. Barring situations where symptoms are debilitating or causing issues such as loss of bowel or bladder control, patients are usually encouraged to give various conservative treatments a chance to work. But if non-surgical treatments aren’t providing meaningful relief or symptoms are becoming increasingly severe and disruptive to daily life, surgery may become an option worth considering.
There are two main purposes for any type of surgery involving the spine: decompressing irritating nerves or restoring stability to the backbone. A spine specialist helps patients weigh the pros and cons of back or neck surgery based on their specific circumstances. When the right procedure is performed based on an accurate diagnosis, spine surgery may offer benefits that include:
- Increased mobility and stability
- Less reliance on pain medications that may have unintended side effects
- Better productivity at work
- Improved athletic performance
- More incentive to get regular exercise
A consultation with a spine specialist in Los Angeles normally involves a physical and neurological examination along with a review a patient’s current symptoms and overall medical history. Some specialists use a universal pain diagram to illustrate the location and nature of a patient’s discomfort in a way that’s more understandable. Since spine pain is highly subjective in that two people with the same physical sources of pain can report very different symptoms, patients are often asked to rate their discomfort. Doing so also allows a spine specialist to track improvements as treatments are recommended.