When Should I See a Specialist for My Back Pain?

Dr. Constantine Toumbis

14 October 2020

With more sophisticated treatments and specialized services in the healthcare field, many of us have wondered: Should I visit my primary care doctor or go straight to a specialist instead?

If you’re experiencing back pain, visiting your primary care physician may seem like the natural first step. However, there are certain instances where going straight to a back pain specialist is more efficient, saving you time and money. 

Differences Between Primary Care Physicians and Orthopedic Specialists

Primary care physicians are usually a patient’s first point of contact when they’re experiencing medical symptoms. Since primary care physicians are trained in internal medicine, they can typically diagnose and treat common ailments, and play an integral role in preventative treatment and maintenance of general health and wellness.

While your primary care doctor is familiar with your overall state of health, they may not have the expertise to treat certain medical conditions. In the case of back pain, orthopedic physicians specialize in the musculoskeletal system and are best suited for guiding you through both non-invasive and surgical courses of treatment. 

Although primary care physicians may be able to offer conservative treatment methods to help alleviate back pain symptoms, like anti-inflammatories or pain killers, there may be other conservative treatment methods that an orthopedic specialist can recommend to you.

Signs You Need to Visit an Orthopedic Specialist

If you’ve already spoken to your primary care physician about your back pain and have not found relief, you could make an appointment to discuss this and request a referral. Or, you could search for an orthopedic specialist directly through your network to save time and money. (If you’re unsure whether a referral from your primary care physician is necessary for insurance coverage, it’s best to contact your insurance provider directly.)

Regardless of whether you request a referral or seek help directly, below are the top signs that it’s time to consult an orthopedic specialist.

You Are Experiencing Chronic Pain

In a broad sense, there are two types of back pain: acute and chronic. Acute back pain is typically defined as pain that persists anywhere from a week to three months. Chronic back pain, on the other hand, is long term and lasts for three months or longer. 

If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, it may have a significant impact on your quality of life. This ongoing pain could also be an indicator of a larger issue, like Degenerative Disc Disease, which an orthopedic specialist would be able to offer guidance on. 

You Are Experiencing Severe Symptoms

If you’re experiencing minor symptoms that don’t have a big impact on your day-to-day, then a visit to your primary care physician may be enough. However, if you’re experiencing particularly severe symptoms, you may have a critical condition that requires specialized care. A few critical back pain symptoms are:

  • Weakness in your legs, hips or groin area
  • Radiating pain that travels down your leg
  • Fever alongside back pain symptoms
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control 

If you are experiencing any of the above alarming symptoms and cannot schedule an appointment with a specialist in a timely manner, it is recommended that you visit Emergency Care — especially if you are experiencing bladder and bowel incontinence, which requires immediate emergency medical attention.

You Have Experienced a Traumatic Injury

If you have recently been in a car accident, experienced a fall, or any other type of injury that resulted in back pain, you should visit a doctor immediately. The impact from traumatic injuries can cause the discs inside your spine to bulge, herniate or rupture. In cases where discs may be damaged or injured, a back pain specialist can review all options, including minimally-invasive procedures, to treat your back injury.

Your Back Pain Interferes With Day-To-Day Activities

Quality of life is important, and if normal routine activities are becoming too much of a challenge, then it’s time to see someone who can help. Daily activities like walking, getting out of bed or bending over to reach objects shouldn’t be a laborious effort. A back pain specialist will be able to pinpoint the source of your pain and offer solutions.

Conservative Pain Relief Solutions Aren’t Helping

Perhaps you’ve already visited your general family doctor but the conservative treatments prescribed, like medications or physical therapy, have not helped. At that point, you should visit an orthopedic specialist who can dig deeper into your unique case and recommend the best course of action moving forward. 

Contact Citrus Spine to Discuss Your Back Pain

If you have experienced any of the warning signs above, it may be time to schedule an appointment with specialists at Citrus Spine. Our board-certified healthcare providers will listen to your concerns and review non-surgical or surgical options with you to create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.


If you are experiencing back pain symptoms, you should never ignore or try to suffer through the pain. Always consult your doctor and have open conversations. If you are not satisfied with your doctor or require specialized care, it is recommended to get a second opinion from a back pain specialist.

Dr. Constantine Toumbis

Dr. Toumbis is a board certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in cervical, thoracic and lumbar surgery. He received his undergraduate degree in Biology from New York University in 1987, then continued on to receive his Masters in Natural Sciences as well as a PhD in Experimental Pathology from State University of New York at Buffalo. He completed his medical degree at Wayne State University School of Medicine with a distinction in Biomedical Research. After moving to Florida to complete his internship and residency in orthopedics at the University of Florida Shands Hospital, he went on to pursue a fellowship at Cleveland Clinic's Florida Spine Institute. He moved to Citrus County and has been in private practice since 2005.

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