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When to See a Spine Specialist

Wednesday, May 09, 2018
Back Pain

Many of us experience lower back pain that often goes away on its own or with little treatment. But there are certain symptoms that indicate it's time to seek a spine specialist.

With a practice conveniently located on the Doylestown Hospital campus, Rothman Institute spine specialists provide a wide variety of treatments that restore patients to normal function and return them to the activities they enjoy.

Guy Lee, MD, is a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who specializes in spinal surgery, reconstruction, trauma and degenerative conditions of the spine.He shares his expertise regarding when it's time to seek out a spine specialist.

Severe pain

Lower back pain is a common problem that many times can be treated by a primary care physician. However, severe pain may require a specialist.

How severe does the pain have to be?

"When the pain is bad enough, you know," says Dr. Lee. "It changes your personality and your behavior. It is nerve pain that you just can't take anymore."

Severe pain that affects the activities of daily living, makes walking difficult, or comes on very suddenly may require the attention of a spine specialist. Lower back and/or leg pain that lasts several weeks or months should also be addressed by a specialist.

A medical emergency

Severe back or leg pain accompanied by certain symptoms could signal a medical emergency, when a patient should seek a spine specialist immediately or go to the Emergency Room to prevent irreparable damage including incontinence or paralysis.

These symptoms include weakness in the legs and the inability to walk. Numbness in your legs, hips, or buttocks may also signal a serious condition. Bowel and bladder dysfunction are red flags that could indicate a rare disorder called cauda equina syndrome, which affects the bundle of nerve roots at the lower end of the spinal cord. Cauda equina syndrome is a surgical emergency.

When cauda equina syndrome is taken care of right away, most people do very well and avoid long-term problems, notes Dr. Lee.

Surgery, you say?

Some people delay going to see a spine specialist because they fear they may need surgery.

"When it comes to back pain, 99 percent of the time there is not a reason to have surgery," says Dr. Lee.

Many times pain is caused by something as simple as a herniated disk, which most often does not require surgery. Dr. Lee and his colleagues at Doylestown Hospital try numerous conservative, non-surgical treatments before recommending surgery. These may include pain medications, anti-inflammatory injections and physical therapy.

When surgery is the best option, most people with an "abnormal fear" of spine procedures are surprised when they learn they can usually go home the same day of the procedure or the day after. Newer technologies and smaller incisions used in minimally-invasive surgeries mean quicker recovery and a faster return to everyday activities.

"Just about everybody who has a procedure tells me, ‘I don't know why I waited so long'," says Dr. Lee. "They thank me for giving them their life back. When you have patients with nerve pain and you make that go away, they're just the happiest people."

About Doylestown Health's Orthopedic Institute

For joint repair and replacement, spine and hand surgery, sports medicine and osteoporosis care, you’ll find Doylestown Health’s Orthopedic Institute is the perfect fit. With same and next day appointments available, our board-certified and fellowship-trained physicians treat all types of bone and muscle conditions. And for eligible joint replacement patients, our rapid recovery program helps patients return to the activities they love – faster.

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