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Living with back pain?


About 80 percent of Americans will suffer from back pain at some point.

Back pain can be caused when the spine is stressed by an accident, poor posture or body mechanics, disease, or normal wear and tear. 

Back pain can be acute or chronic. Acute back pain usually comes on suddenly with intense pain that eases off after a few days or weeks. It often goes away with rest, exercise and other self-care measures. Chronic pain is pain that continues even if you get professional treatment.


The steps to healing back pain

Whether you have sciatica, back pain, a pinched nerve, a herniated or bulging disc, numb fingers, a stiff neck, or some other mysterious pain, the first step in receiving treatment for your chronic back, neck or spine-related pain is to set up an appointment with your primary care provider. You’ll then begin treatment (which may include anti-inflammatory medicine, muscle relaxants, and/or physical therapy) to relieve symptoms, depending on your condition.

Most people with spine-related pain (more than 80 percent) do not require surgery.

Your goal should be to go through all of the steps below before you ask for a referral to a specialist or surgeon:

  • Have an initial evaluation/exam with your provider.

  • Take medications as recommended.

  • Get initial diagnostic tests such as MRI and treatment such as physical therapy if your PCP recommends them.

Your provider's goal is offer the treatment and level of care that meets your needs but also to minimize unnecessary and expensive surgery. However, if your symptoms have not improved after four weeks of PCP treatment, then you should ask to be referred to the Salem Health Spine Center.




If you have neck, back or spine pain that has not been resolved with medication or physical therapy, asking your doctor about the Salem Health Spine Center should be your next step.



What you may not know about back and spine surgery

Because you may have to wait two months or more to get an appointment with a spine surgeon — and because surgery is actually required less than 20 percent of the time — patients in pain often wait for weeks just to be told surgery isn't the right answer for them.

With the help of the Salem Health Spine Center, people with neck, spine or back problems will get the answers they need faster. You will:

  • Speak directly with a provider about your back pain.

  • Enjoy our simplified referral process.

  • Avoid extra office visits you don't really need.

  • Get care all in one place, from one team.

  • Receive timely treatment, guided by a spine specialist.


What makes Salem Health's spine center different?

With a referral from your physician, our intake specialist will call you to collect detailed information about your symptoms and obtain recent imaging records.

We'll then work with a spine specialist to review your information. Because of our collaboration with community-based providers, this review happens within days instead of weeks. The specialist will make a treatment recommendation based on your medical history and imaging studies.

Our nurse navigators then contact you and coordinate your care. We help facilitate your appointments, provide educational information and always keep your referring physician updated.



Frequently asked questions

Can I call for an appointment at the Salem Health Spine Center?

No. The Salem Health Spine Center guided patient service (GPS) is available only with a referral from your primary care practitioner (PCP) or specialist you may be seeing. If you do not yet have a PCP, you can search our provider directory to locate one who fits your needs and is accepting new patients.


Can the specialist evaluate my condition by reviewing my medical information without seeing me in the office?

Yes. The spine specialist evaluates your condition based on your medical history, images and test results. This is often much faster than scheduling an office visit. The specialist then provides an initial impression and treatment plan.

The treatment plan may recommend you see a specific specialist (e.g., a physical therapist or physiatrist), schedule additional tests or schedule an appointment with a neurosurgeon.


What is a physiatrist?

A physiatrist, also called a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PMR) physician, is a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of all types of physical disabilities. Physiatrists specialize in restoring optimal function to people with injuries to the muscles, bones, tissues and nervous system.


How long before I hear something back?

In most cases, the specialist reviews your information within a few days of receiving your complete information (medical history, films, etc.). Once the specialist provides an impression and treatment plan, the nurse navigator will call you to advise you of the recommendation and next steps.


If I need an appointment with the surgeon, will I see that doctor in person?

Yes. We will schedule the earliest appointment possible with the recommended specialist. If your primary physician refers you to a specialist who does not participate in the Spine Center’s network, then you or your doctor will have to schedule that appointment, and you will no longer be assisted by the Salem Health Spine Center.


How quickly will I get an appointment after the review?

Generally, within a few weeks. The spine specialist will recommend when and with whom (surgeon, physical therapist, etc.) your appointment should be scheduled.


Will I need to get my imaging films from the imaging center or will the Salem Health Spine Center retrieve them?

The Salem Health Spine Center can request the images from your referring doctor or directly from the imaging center if possible. If needed, we will ask you to pick up your films and deliver them to us.

Keep in mind, we can’t begin reviewing your medical history until we have all images available for the spine specialist to view.


Can I just bring my films in when I come in for my appointment?

No. The specialist is reviewing your medical information and films ahead of time in the hope that you can avoid seeing a surgeon. By reviewing your films and medical history, we can give you the quickest and most appropriate care.


What will happen with my films?

Your films are returned to the originating imaging center upon completion of your care. If the films are your own personal copies, we’ll return them to you.


Will my insurance cover my visit?

Salem Health Spine Center provides free services, which include the initial intake interview, review of your records and the impression and treatment recommendation by the spine specialists, education materials, coordination of your care and communication with you and your referring physician. All of this is done online and over the phone.

If an appointment is recommended, please contact your insurance company to verify your coverage and the level of benefits provided by your particular policy.


Does anyone at Salem Health Spine Center actually see me in person?

No. The Salem Health Spine Center handles the intake interview, review of records, impression and treatment plan, education materials, and progress reports to your referring physician online and over the phone.

If an appointment is necessary, the Salem Health Spine Center will facilitate scheduling with the specialist. You will see the specialist at their regular office.