What Doctor Should I See for Neck Pain?

Neck is a complex structure made up of muscles, joints, nerves, tendons, ligaments and vertebrae. With so many components, there are many potential causes of neck pain. Determining the right doctor to see can help you get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Here are some tips on what type of doctor to see for neck pain:

Primary Care Physician

Your primary care physician or general practitioner can be a good first stop for evaluating neck pain. They can perform an exam, order imaging tests like x-rays or an MRI, and determine if your neck pain is from common sources like muscle strain or poor posture. Primary care doctors can prescribe pain medications, recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, or refer you to a specialist if needed. Seeing your primary care provider first for neck pain can help rule out serious underlying medical conditions.

Orthopedist

An orthopedist specializes in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal conditions. They can identify issues with muscles, joints, bones and connective tissues that may be causing neck pain. Orthopedists can order steroid injections, prescribe pain medications or physical therapy, or recommend surgery if necessary. See an orthopedist if your neck pain is severe, accompanied by numbness or weakness in the arms or hands, or is not improving with more conservative treatments. An orthopedist may order CT scans or MRIs to look at the cervical spine and pinpoint the source of pain.

Neurologist

A neurologist specializes in issues involving the nervous system, including the network of nerves that run through the neck region. See a neurologist if your neck pain radiates down your arms or is accompanied by numbness, tingling or weakness in your extremities. These could be signs of a pinched nerve or nerve compression caused by a herniated disc or bone spur. A neurologist can run tests to assess nerve function and determine if surgery or steroid injections may help relieve nerve impingement.

Physiatrist

A physiatrist specializes in non-surgical treatments for musculoskeletal injuries and pain. They can provide treatments like spinal manipulation, therapeutic exercises, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and prescription medication. See a physiatrist if you want to take a more conservative approach to managing your neck pain through physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, massage, acupuncture or steroid injections into the spine. They may also coordinate care with your other doctors.

Massage Therapist

For short-term or mild neck pain, seeing a massage therapist may provide relief. They can identify areas of muscle tightness and spasm that may be causing pain and perform therapeutic massage to increase circulation and relax the muscles. Massage, combined with at-home stretches and exercises, can help manage and reduce mild to moderate neck pain. It’s important to follow up with a doctor though if pain persists for more than a week.

In many cases, a primary care physician or orthopedist are good doctors to see first for neck pain evaluation and treatment. They can run tests to pinpoint the source of pain and refer you to a specialist like a neurologist or physiatrist if needed. Don’t hesitate to see a doctor if neck pain becomes severe or is impacting your daily activities. With proper diagnosis and treatment, you can get relief from neck pain and get back to normal activity.