Seeing a neurologist or orthopedist for sciatica can be a difficult decision to make, particularly if you are truly not sure why you have pain. Although both medical specialties are actively involved in the dorsalgia industry, and treat back pain regularly, each has particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to what they can offer in terms of providing sciatica pain relief.
Hopefully this article will help clarify the pros and cons of each type of medical professional and help patients seek qualified care for their torturous sciatica symptoms. We will examine the differences in the diagnostic and treatment approaches of neurologists and orthopedists in order to assist patients in retaining the ideal physician to get them back on the path to good health.
A neurologist is a highly trained medical professional who specializes in the study and treatment of nerve-related conditions, such as sciatica. Being that all cases of true sciatica, and most cases of pseudo-sciatica, are neurological disorders; it would seem that a neurologist may be the best choice among care providers.
However, despite all their schooling and knowledge, most neurologists do not actively treat pain, unless they are neurosurgeons, or also offer pain management services, which is typically a completely independent field in the modern back pain treatment sector. Therefore, many neurologists can provide diagnostic insight, but often little in the way of effective treatment.
Being that a correct diagnosis is the most important thing to achieve, securing the services of a spinal neurologist to assist in this task is always advised. Even if the doctor does not provide the type of treatment needed, at least they can likely ascertain the cause of sciatica and point the patient in the right direction for finding effectual care.
Being that many actual cases of spinally-induced sciatica involve the vertebrae and intervertebral discs, an orthopedist seems like a good choice as a care provider, since these doctors focus on the musculoskeletal system, with many concentrating on the spine itself. However, the common structural issues which are typically implicated in sourcing sciatica are often misdiagnosed and even when the diagnostic theory is correct, the actual pain is experienced due to nerve interaction, basically placing the patient back into the hands of a neurologist once again. This can be a vicious cycle to be sure and one which is very frustrating for sufferers of chronic sciatica pain.
Additionally, many orthopedists are also surgeons, and statistically, they are more prone to want to operate than other types of doctors who dedicate themselves to more conservative back pain care.
General practitioners are virtually useless for diagnosing anything at all. When it comes to sciatica, they will check only the basics and then refer you to a specialist.
Orthopedists may find structural issues in the spine, often using MRI technology, but many times, these abnormalities are not the sources of pain. Treatment towards correcting these innocent and circumstantial anatomical concerns is almost always fruitless and often makes matters worse, particularly in cases of sciatica surgery.
Neurologists can usually better correlate symptomatic expressions with suspected sources, but unless there is an obvious surgical emergency, will not likely offer much in the way of lasting relief.
My advice? I say use the neurologist for diagnosis and symptomatic correlation. They are experts at this, where orthopedists are not. If the condition is suspect for the actual source of pain, then consider alternative explanations for pain. If the symptoms correlate, then consider seeing a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon for consultations and compare notes between the two to maximize the chances for the best treatment results possible.
There is no harm in getting multiple diagnostic and treatment opinions from a variety of care providers, including chiropractors and physical therapists, as well. If your insurance will cover the bill, then the more you can learn, the better your chances of finding that often elusive cure.