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Spine (Back and Neck) Injuries and Conditions

There are many types of spine injuries and conditions. Symptoms such as neck pain, back pain, stiffness or posture problems should be assessed by an expert spine physician to determine appropriate treatment. In most cases, to help make a diagnosis, imaging tests (such as X-rays, low-dose radiation EOS images or MRIs) should also be conducted and reviewed by a radiologist with musculoskeletal expertise. Learn more below.

 

What kind of doctor treats back pain?

This depends on your condition or symptoms. If you have no obvious injury that would explain your pain, a good place to start may be to see a physiatrist – a specialist in physical medicine. This type of doctor can diagnose back pain problems and determine whether physical therapy or other nonsurgical treatments may help you. A physiatrist may also refer you to an spine surgeon, pain management doctor or other type of back specialist if appropriate.

A spine surgeon who specializes in spine conditions can treat alignment problems and damage to bones or discs of the spine that may be causing back pain. The spine surgeon can also treat complex spine fractures and injuries to the nerves of the spinal cord. Some injuries or conditions may require treatment by an interdisciplinary team of orthopedic or neurologic spine surgeons, pain management doctors, neurologists and/or physical therapists.

In addition to physical damage caused by injuries or spine conditions, degenerative and autoimmune conditions can also create back pain. Rheumatologists treat low back pain and are especially interested in evaluating patients for possible inflammatory disease that can cause it, such as ankylosing spondylitis. Explore the content below to learn more.

Spine anatomy

The bones that compose the spine (or backbone) are divided into four basic segments. From top to bottom, these are:

  • The cervical spine (the neck) – the first seven vertebrae located just below the skull
  • The thoracic spine – the 12 vertebrae of the upper back
  • The lumbar spine – the five vertebrae of the lower back
  • The sacral spine – composed of a triangular structure called the sacrum (five individual vertebrae that fuse together between the age of 18 and 30) and the coccyx (commonly called the tailbone and composed of three to five individual vertebrae, some of which may fuse together in adulthood)

Image: Graphic of spine anatomy with segments and structures labeled.

 

Spine animations library

Watch videos that illustrate and explain various spinal conditions and injuries, including surgical treatments. (Each surgical animation provides only a general overview of a particular orthopedic procedure. HSS surgeons tailor each operation to the individual patient.)

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