Nov 8, 2023 Ask the Doctor November 2023

Warning Signs you may need to see an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

Marc J Levine, MDBack pain is known to be one of the most common presenting symptoms seen by physicians, and reports suggest it is among the top 5 reasons people see a doctor. “Fortunately, the majority of back pain episodes in adults can be resolved in almost 6 weeks with activity modification, rest and medications such as anti-inflammatories and treatments like ice and heat. Physical therapy and exercise regimens can also play an important role in recovery, says Marc J. Levine, MD, RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, Director of The Orthopedic and Spine Institute at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

What are some of the top reasons or causes patients may have back pain?

There are 5 general categories for underlying back pain which include:

  • Trauma - both high and low energy
  • Degenerative - consisting of changes with wear and tear and aging
  • Inflammatory -diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and systemic diseases
  • Infections –which can affect the bone or discs that lie between the blocks of bone of the spine
  • Oncologic - cancers both starting in the spine or spreading to the spine

What are some “Red Flags” a person should visit an orthopedic spine surgeon?

Adults should have a consultation from orthopedic surgeon if their back or neck pain lasts for more than 6 weeks and/or should consider seeking medical attention even sooner for a number of reasons like:

  • History of metastatic cancer
  • History of recent infection and/or active infection even if when taking antibiotics
  • New urinary retention particularly if associated with numbness and tingling in the genital region
  • Pain shooting down an extremity particularly if associated with a new weakness such as “drop foot”
  • Electrical Shocks shooting thru the body
  • New onset of walking difficulty
  • Immunocompromised individuals with increased risk of infection
  • New onset of extremity weakness particularly if progressing
  • Recent travel to international destinations particularly if exposed to indigenous illnesses
  • Older adults with osteoporosis who are at risk for fractures

What should patients expect at their initial appointment or consultation with an Orthopedic Surgeon?

  • Bring a comfortable pair of shorts to wear for a thorough physical examination
  • Share a list of their current medications and health history
  • Share any history of previous spine surgery and symptoms that have occurred with this new back pain
  • Bring any radiographic studies that may have been performed prior

Your spine surgeon may order additional x-rays and other studies such as MRIs and CT scans to better understand your condition. Blood work may also be ordered to help get an appropriate diagnosis.

“Our team at The Orthopedic and Spine Institute work with patients to create a personalized treatment plan. We offer non-surgical treatments such as pain management, hot and cold therapy and trigger point injections. However if a patient does need surgery, we also offer the latest techniques using cutting edge technology focusing on minimally invasive surgery,” says Dr. Levine.

Remember if your pain or symptoms are quickly getting worse, a visit to the emergency department is always a good option. Getting checked out by a medical professional ensures your safety and provides peace of mind.

For more information, visit Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton.

Let’s be healthy together