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Finding Dr. Right

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Marguerite Lamb

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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 effectively?

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 neurosurgeon
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

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