Training and Treatment Differences Between Chiropractors and Spine Doctors

Spine DoctorsChiropractors

Should I see a Chiropractor or Doctor for my Back Pain?

Imagine this scenario: You’ve done everything you can think of to ease your back pain, including over-the-counter medications, ice and heat, and gentle stretches and exercises. But your back pain just won’t go away. From whom do you seek treatment – a chiropractor or a medical doctor?

Who is Chiropractor

A chiropractor is a healthcare professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating neuromuscular disorders, with an emphasis on the spine and its alignment. They use a hands-on approach to treat their patients, manipulating the joints and soft tissues of the body to help alleviate pain and improve overall function.

Chiropractors believe that the body has the innate ability to heal itself, and that by correcting misalignments in the spine, they can help restore the body's natural balance and promote healing. They also take a holistic approach to healthcare, considering the patient's overall health and lifestyle factors in their diagnosis and treatment plan.

Chiropractic care is often sought out for conditions such as back pain, neck pain, headaches, and joint pain. Treatment may include spinal manipulation, soft tissue therapy, exercise, and lifestyle modifications. It is important to note that while chiropractic care can be effective for many conditions, it is not a substitute for medical care. Chiropractors work closely with other healthcare professionals to ensure their patients receive the best possible care.

Overall, chiropractors are skilled healthcare professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating neuromuscular disorders with a hands-on approach. They play an important role in the healthcare system, helping patients improve their overall function and quality of life.

Who is Spinal Doctor

A spinal doctor, also known as a spine specialist or spine surgeon, is a healthcare professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the spine. These disorders may include degenerative conditions, trauma, infections, tumors, and congenital abnormalities.

Spinal doctors are highly trained and skilled professionals who typically have completed extensive education and training in the field of spine surgery. This may include completing a residency program in orthopedic surgery or neurosurgery, followed by additional fellowship training in spinal surgery.

Spinal doctors are equipped to use a variety of treatment modalities to manage spinal disorders, including non-surgical and surgical options. Non-surgical treatments may include medications, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and other forms of conservative management. If non-surgical treatments fail to provide relief, surgical intervention may be recommended.

Surgical options for spinal disorders may include minimally invasive procedures, such as microdiscectomy or spinal fusion, as well as more complex surgeries for severe spinal deformities or injuries.

Spinal doctors work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as pain management specialists, physical therapists, and chiropractors, to provide comprehensive care to their patients. They also utilize advanced imaging technology, such as MRI and CT scans, to aid in diagnosis and treatment planning.

Several fundamental differences in training, approach and treatment options should influence your choice, says Kaliq Chang MD, of Atlantic Spine Center. While the National Institutes of Health points out that back pain (especially the lower back) is extremely common, affecting about 80% of Americans at some point in their lives, deciding whom to seek help from isn’t necessarily easy, Dr. Chang says.

“The various health professionals who typically treat back pain, who include chiropractors and medical doctors specializing in interventional pain management of the spine, tend to have very different training and techniques at their disposal to treat these patients,” explains Dr. Chang, an interventional pain management specialist. “Choosing the provider who’s the best fit for your individual situation requires understanding these differences.”

Differences in Medical Education and Training

What are the training and certification differences separating chiropractors and doctors practicing spine medicine? Dr.Chang explains:

Chiropractors diagnose and treat primarily back and neck pain. To do so, they:

  • Attend a graduate-level chiropractic program involving an average of 4 years of education
  • Complete a 1-year internship at a college clinic
  • Take board licensing tests

Spine doctors can include MDs (medical doctors) and DOs (doctors of osteopathic medicine) who specialize in surgery, neurology, orthopedics, spine medicine and/or anesthesiology and may focus on diagnosing and treating back pain and/or a variety of other medical problems. To do so, they:

  • Attend medical or osteopathic medical school for 4 years
  • Complete a 3- to 7-year residency within their specialty
  • Possibly complete a spine fellowship or other specialized fellowship lasting several more years
  • Take board certification and licensing tests
  • Treatment options vary

As with certification and licensing requirements, treatment options that chiropractors can offer compared to medical doctors also vary greatly, Dr. Chang notes.

Differences in Treatment Techniques and Specialization

Chiropractors are able to offer drug-free, non-invasive treatments. The bulk of chiropractic care centers around spinal manipulation, but they can also help address pain in areas such as the foot, elbow, shoulder, and neck. They may also use techniques involving light, ultrasound, water, massage, electricity, and heat therapy.

“Most chiropractors spend much of their time ‘adjusting’ the spine through manual movements to address patients’ lower back pain, neck pain or whiplash-related problems,” Dr. Chang says.

Medical doctors who specialize in spine care, by contrast, may also manipulate the spine but they’re also able to offer a broader and more intensive array of treatments. These doctors can prescribe medications or physical therapy, inject steroids into problematic joints, and perform spine surgery addressing a host of back pain-causing conditions in and around the spinal cord.

“Recent years have seen spine surgery becoming increasingly specialized within neurosurgery and orthopedics, and these days surgeons will often concentrate most of their practice on spine surgery,” Dr. Chang says. “Because of this, surgical techniques have become increasingly minimally invasive, improving outcomes and contributing to less pain and quicker recovery in patients.”

“There’s a place in back pain treatment for both chiropractors and medical doctors,” he adds. “Just know what each can offer, so you can be the best advocate for your own care.”