When choosing a doctor to perform your spine surgery, you have a choice between a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon. The emerging field of spine surgery incorporates aspects of both specialties.
Before choosing which type of doctor should perform your surgery, it is important to understand the differences between them.
What Do Neurosurgeons Do?
When you think of a neurosurgeon, you may think that they do mostly brain surgeries. Actually, for many neurosurgeons, the majority of operations they perform are spine surgeries.
Neurosurgeons are highly skilled and trained in the diagnosis and treatment of spinal disorders. They gain their expertise by doing a residency that can last up to 7 years after they have completed medical school. By the time they graduate from an accredited neurosurgery training program, they will have assisted in several hundred spinal surgeries.
Many neurosurgeons also elect to do a postgraduate fellowship in spine surgery, which includes 1 to 2 years of intensive training, focusing on spinal surgery, after their residency training. Neurosurgeons are board-certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery.
What Do Orthopedic Surgeons Do?
Orthopedic surgeons gain experience in spine surgery during their 4- to 5-year residency training program. While many orthopedic residencies place an emphasis on trauma, joint surgery, or sports medicine, some offer the opportunity to specialize in spine surgery.
Some orthopedic surgeons who wish to specialize in spine surgery may pursue a postgraduate fellowship after their residency in spine surgery. Orthopedic surgeons get board-certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery.
Similarities Between Neurosurgeons and Orthopedic Surgeons
Today, there is an increasing number of both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons who specialize in spinal surgery. Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons who specialize in spine surgery are skilled in caring for the following conditions:
- Herniated discs
- Degenerated discs
- Spinal stenosis
- Fractures of the spine
- Slippage of the spine (spondylolisthesis)
- Bone tumors of the spine
Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons who specialize in spine surgery often train side-by-side, learning spinal cord and nerve decompression techniques and performing fusions, minimally invasive surgery techniques, microsurgeries, and treatments of the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine.
Differences Between Orthopedic Surgeons and Neurosurgeons
Although both doctors perform spine surgery, there are certain surgeries that can only be performed by neurosurgeons. Because neurosurgeons are trained during their residency to perform procedures inside the dura (the lining of the spinal canal), they are the only ones qualified to treat the following conditions:
- Spinal cord tumors
- Arachnoid cysts
- Chiari malformation
- Spinal cord arteriovenous malformation
- Diplomyelia or diastematomyelia
- Tethered spinal cord
- Spina bifida (myelomeningocele)
- Tumors at the junction of the base of the skull and upper cervical spine
- Nerve root tumors
While both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons can be excellent spinal surgeons, the chance of unexpected injury to the neural structures during surgery may be a good reason to use a neurosurgeon. Conversely, there are surgeries that are more primarily treated by orthopedic surgeons, such as surgery for scoliosis or other spinal deformities.
You Have Choices
As a patient today, you can hire a surgeon who has dedicated their career to spine surgery. During your consultation, be sure to ask the surgeon about their training, the focus of their practice, their previous surgical experience with the operation you’re having done, and all of the treatment options that are available to you (not just the ones they may treat).
This is your body and spine, so be sure to choose your surgeon wisely.
Spine Surgeons in Colorado
The doctors and staff at Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery welcome any questions you have about spine surgery. We pride ourselves on providing exceptional care for all of our patients.