Finding Dr. Right
By Marguerite Lamb
Baffled by all those initials after doctors' names? Tired of
getting the referral runaround? We'll help clear up the confusion so you can
find the best treatment for your symptoms.
In today's medical marketplace, you're not a patient—you're a
"health-care consumer." That's good news and bad. It means you have
more autonomy and choice than ever—but it also means the ball is in your court
when it comes to figuring out whom to trust with your health. Should you see an
optometrist or an ophthalmologist for your eyestrain? Do you need a
chiropractor or orthopedist for your back pain? And how can you be sure the
health professional you choose has the training to treat you safely and
To help make "doc shopping" easier, here's our guide to finding the
best treatment for your symptoms so you can feel better fast.
Your health complaint: Back pain
Your options: Chiropractor, orthopedist, physical therapist, or
Your best bet: Chiropractor
Though long dismissed as bogus by many medical doctors, chiropractic care is
lately gaining legitimacy, thanks to recent studies showing it may be more
effective at treating lower back pain than conventional remedies, such as
physical therapy and drugs. Even health insurers are convinced, with most now
covering at least some chiropractic care.
Chiropractors perform spinal manipulations—manually applying gentle force to
rigid vertebral joints to restore mobility—often in combination with massage,
ultrasound (for deep-heat tissue stimulation), and acupuncture.
Although chiropractors don't attend medical school (and so can't prescribe
meds or perform surgery), they do complete four years of education and training
and a one-year internship, and they must pass national boards. Typically,
patients see a benefit after one or two treatments, and a half-dozen visits are
usually enough to resolve acute back pain.
If your back pain is accompanied by limb pain, weakness or tingling, loss of
bladder or bowel control, or is so sharp it disrupts sleep, it may signal nerve
or spinal cord damage that requires an M.D. Ask your doctor for a referral to a
good orthopedist or neurosurgeon who specializes in the spine.
An orthopedic surgeon (or orthopedist) treats injured bones, muscles,
joints, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. Despite the title, orthopedic
surgeons typically begin with nonoperative treatments, such as physical
therapy, massage, and exercise. "Most back-pain patients will get better
without surgery," says Rey Bosita, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at the
Texas Back Institute in Plano. If surgery is required, either an orthopedic
surgeon or a neurosurgeon can operate.
Your ideal chiropractor is: Board certified and state licensed (check with
your Chiropractic State Licensing Board). To find one near you, click on
"Find a Doc" at amerchiro.org.