Neurology and Neurosurgery

5 ways to prepare to see a spine doctor for back or neck pain

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Take steps to put back or neck pain behind you starting by preparing for your first consultation with a spine specialist.


By Dr. Scott Sanderson, Chief of Neurosurgery, Danbury Hospital, part of Nuvance Health


Back or neck problems can be a real pain. Getting help doesn’t have to be. Here are five ways you can get the most out of your first visit with a spine specialist.


Learn more about back and spine surgery at the Nuvance Health Neuroscience Institute.


1: Medical records. Document your medical history and send it to the spine specialist’s office before your appointment for back or neck pain.


Send your medical history to the spine specialist’s office before your appointment so they can review it and have a more productive visit.


It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint how a spine injury occurred or even if symptoms are from a back or neck problem. Oftentimes, people will see an orthopedist, physiatrist, physical therapist or pain management specialist before a spine specialist. The spine specialist needs to know the diagnoses and treatments you already had for your back pain or neck pain.


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Include medical imaging, such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs because spine specialists are very image focused.


In addition to medical records related to your spine concern, include medical records for other health conditions because your overall health may influence the treatment plan.

Related content: Woman with cancer bounces back after two spine surgeries for herniated disc and bone spur


Your medical records should include prescribed medications. Please also make a list of over-the-counter medications you may take to manage pain, such as acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory medications. Include details about how much and often you take the medications.


Finally, it is also useful to know what supplements, alternative treatments and supportive care, such as heat or ice, you may have had and how they did or did not help.


Related content: Know when to get spine treatment for back and neck pain


2: Symptoms. Develop a timeline of events from when your back or neck pain symptoms started.


Many times, back pain or neck pain comes out of nowhere, or after a simple movement like getting out of bed in the morning. Other times, it is clear how your spine pain occurred after an accident or lifting something heavy.


Whether you know how the injury occurred, the spine specialist needs to know details about your symptoms. Even small details can make a big difference in trying to understand a specific diagnosis.


Prepare a timeline of events from when you think the injury occurred and document your symptoms. Consider:

  • Do you know how the injury occurred?

  • When did you start having symptoms?

  • Describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible. For example:
    • Is the pain dull or sharp, persistent or intermittent?
    • Do you have numbness or tingling in your arms or legs?
    • If you have arm or leg pain, where is it? Is it in the front of the thigh, front of the shin, back of the calf, etc.?

  • Are the symptoms staying about the same or worsening?

  • Are there trends in how often your symptoms occur and how intense they are? For example, do you feel better or worse at certain times of the day or after particular activities?


3: Goals. What are your main goals for feeling better from back or neck pain?


Be specific about your goals to help the spine specialist develop a personalized treatment plan. Consider your lifestyle and what activities you want to resume or plan to start when you feel better.


Related content: What type of spine surgery is right for me?


4: Questions. Prepare your questions for the spine specialist before your appointment.


We have all been there: You have a great visit with your doctor and then think of something you wanted to ask them while driving home from the appointment.


Prepare your questions for the spine specialist before your visit. This will give you time to think about your questions and remember to ask them. Type them in your mobile phone or write them down so you can reference them during the visit.


Also, include your concerns and preferences for possible treatments. The spine specialist will consider your specific needs to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.


Related content: What can I expect after spine surgery?


5: Support person. Ask someone to be with you during the visit.


Having a second set of ears at an initial consultation with a spine specialist is valuable for three main reasons. A support person can:

  • Listen and take notes.

  • Help provide a comprehensive medical history in case there is anything you may not remember, or that they have noticed about your current condition.

  • Offer emotional and physical support, especially if you are having mobility challenges from your spine pain. 


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The bottom line: Make the most of your first visit with a spine specialist for spine pain by sharing your medical history, tracking symptoms, determining your health goals, preparing questions and connecting with a support person.