When do You Need to See an Orthopaedic Surgeon for Back Pain?

With 9.2% of Australians suffering from lower back pain at some point in their lives, this is a common issue that doesn't always warrant seeing an orthopaedic surgeon. In many cases, you can resolve the problem in a community care setting or through self-help. However, there are some instances that indicate the need to see a specialist.

Individuals of certain ages may need referral

Those who are under the age of 20 or over the age of 50 and are experiencing back pain for the first time may need to see an orthopaedic surgeon. This is especially the case for those over the age of 50 who are experiencing lower back pain for the first time. If you're seeking a referral through a family doctor, they'll likely look at other influencing factors too, such as recent injuries or occupational hazards.

Factors that indicate a possible spinal fracture

Fortunately, most causes of lower back pain are mechanical, which simply means minor injuries or overuse of the muscles. However, some factors may suggest a spinal fracture, including:

  • Pain that's sudden and central
  • A recent traumatic injury, such as a road traffic accident
  • Falling from a large height
  • A new structural deformity that's visible when examining the spine

In any of the above instances, a prompt referral to an orthopaedic specialist is worth considering.

Neurological signs that indicate the need for a referral

If you're experiencing a sudden loss of bladder function, sudden sexual dysfunction, or the rapid onset of incontinence, you may need a rapid referral. Similarly, your family doctor may look out for something called a 'neurological deficit', which includes hyper reflexes, loss of sensation, and spasticity in areas of your body that parts of your spine influence. If you're experiencing pain along the sciatic nerve that lasts for more than around six weeks, this too is a reason to see an orthopaedic doctor.

How to address non-alarming causes of back pain

The medical world rarely advises using bed rest for back pain, which means moving around within your capabilities is a beneficial way to promote stronger muscles. In addition, your doctor may advise using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen. If the pain becomes particularly problematic, you can also seek advice from a physiotherapist, who can recommend strengthening exercises.

While lower back problems are often worrying for you as the patient, it's rarely the case that there's a sinister underlying cause. However, if you do notice any concerning symptoms, don't hesitate to seek specialist advice.