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FAQs - The Spine Center

Have a question about back pain or spine health? Below are the most common questions we hear from Spine Center patients.

What causes back pain?

People experience back pain for many reasons. It can result from an injury, a developmental defect such as scoliosis, spinal degeneration or arthritis related to aging or genetics, repetitive poor mechanics or sports-related injuries.

Causes of back pain:

  • If you injure a ligament, tendon or muscle in your lower back, you can develop a lumbar strain or sprain.
  • If a disc or cushion between your vertebrae bulges or ruptures, a herniated disc develops, pinching the spinal nerves. This usually causes sharp or shooting pain, tingling or numbness. It commonly occurs in the neck and low back.
  • If you have lower back pain, lumbar facet joint syndrome may be to blame. These joints are located on either side of your spine to allow movement and are attached to your vertebra. Lumbar facet syndrome often is mistaken for sciatica.
  • Disc problems or arthritis can cause spinal stenosis. It occurs when the spinal canal narrows or where the nerve roots exit. When the nerves are compressed, sciatica-like symptoms can occur.
  • Your sacroiliac joint joins your hip to your spine. If this joint becomes inflamed, you can develop sacroiliitis.


At what point should I see a physician about neck or back pain?

If you have persistent pain, numbness or weakness that radiates down your arms or legs for more than a few days, you should see a spine specialist. If the back pain is the result of a traumatic injury, you should seek immediate medical attention.

What type of doctor should I see for neck, joint or back pain?

Working with a physician who specializes in spine and musculoskeletal care saves valuable time and money. Mary Free Bed’s Spine Center physicians have advanced training in the diagnosis and treatment of back and neck pain. Our specialists sometimes make referrals to other specialists, such as a spine surgeon or chiropractor.

Is surgery always necessary? What are my alternatives?

Most back or neck pain can be resolved without surgery. Pain management and spinal care have progressed to levels that allow physicians to offer many surgical alternatives. These include physical and rehabilitative therapy, injections that may include steroids and anti-inflammatory medication.

What types of exercise can I do to keep my back healthy?

Your spine specialist or physical therapist will design an exercise plan tailored to your specific condition. Back and neck patients also should incorporate postural exercises into their daily routine. Swimming, walking, stretching, dancing, cross-country skiing, tai chi and yoga can help improve your overall spine health.

Does the Spine Center require a referral from my doctor to make an appointment?

A referral is not necessary but is helpful for obtaining past medical history. However, some insurance companies do require referrals. You can always call our office at 616.840.8684 to find out.

What patients are age appropriate for the Spine Center?

We accept patients age 16 and older.

Should I bring reports, previous X-rays and/or MRI films to my first appointment?

These are very important diagnostic tools that can help your physiatrist make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. If the tests were done locally, our team has the resources to view these in our office.

What should I expect at my first visit?

You can expect your initial evaluation to last about 90 minutes. You’ll spend 30 minutes with the physician, 15 minutes with the physician and physical therapist, and the remaining 30 minutes with the physical therapist only.

What insurances does the Spine Center accept?

We participate with all insurances, including Medicaid. The Spine Center will verify benefits and obtain any authorization required prior to your visit.

How much does the program cost?

It varies, depending on insurance coverage. The initial physician evaluation is considered a specialist office visit, and you’ll be charged that co-pay as well as your physical therapy benefit. Every evaluation is a combined evaluation with the physician and physical therapist.

Will the Spine Center complete my FMLA or disability paperwork?

It depends on the patient. You must be receiving treatment at the Spine Center, and each case will be looked at upon receipt of document. There may also be a charge for completion.

Are medications prescribed at the evaluation?

It depends on the patient. The Spine Center is not an opioid medication management facility, and you will not be prescribed narcotics long-term. Only our physicians prescribe medications, and needs are based on evaluation. Chronic pain issues may be referred to our Pain Program.

What type of medication is used for injections?

Most injections are a mixture of Lidocaine and a steroid (such as cortisone). Lidocaine is used to numb the area. The steroid provides longer-term relief by decreasing inflammation, which is the cause of most pain. The dose is typically small and primarily affects the injected area.

Are there any risks?

Injection procedures are typically safe. As with any medical procedure, there are potential risks and side effects. Your provider will review these with you prior to the procedure.