When patients are dealing with problems of the spine, they often first see a primary care physician, but then face the significant hurdle of determining where to turn next. Many types of doctors and medical practitioners deal with spinal disorders, including neurosurgeons, physiatrists, neurologists, pain management specialists, chiropractors, orthopedic spine surgeons, and physical therapists. Neurosurgeons offer patients the most comprehensive expertise in the diagnostic evaluation and subsequent treatment of these issues. They can oversee everything involved with spine care, from the initial neurological examination and clinical diagnosis, to obtaining the appropriate diagnostic tests, to overseeing both conservative treatment programs and, if necessary, performing the definitive surgery.
Difference Between Orthopedic Spine Surgeon and Neurosurgeon
Neurosurgeons have the longest residency training program of any medical specialty, requiring seven years of specialized training after graduating from medical school. As such, neurosurgeons have dedicated themselves to mastery of the entire nervous system, including the spine and spinal cord, spinal and peripheral nerves, and the brain. While neurosurgeons can operate anywhere in and around the brain, spine, and peripheral nerves, the majority of operations a neurosurgeon performs are focused on the spine. Aside from performing surgery for seven years, neurosurgery residency involves formal training in neurology, neuro-radiology, intensive care, and research. No other specialty involved in spine care offers equivalent depth, proficiency, and expertise.While both neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons deal with the surgical management of spinal disorders, there are significant differences in the training programs that are important for patients to know. Neurosurgeons focus exclusively on spine, brain, and peripheral nerve disorders. The requirement for graduating neurosurgeons is to have performed a minimum of 300 spinal surgeries, with the average neurosurgeon having performed 496 spinal surgeries at the completion of residency. Orthopedic surgery residency covers general orthopedic issues (e.g. hips, knees, shoulders, etc.) and has a required case minimum of 15 spine surgeries, with the average graduating orthopedic surgeon having performed 83 spine surgeries. In reality, most neurosurgeons perform 2-3x the minimum surgical requirement during training. Given the limited exposure to spine surgery during orthopedic residency training, orthopedic surgeons typically require a spine surgery fellowship to gain greater comfort working around the delicate nerves of the spine.
Should I see a neurosurgeon for back pain?
Neurosurgeons are the only spinal specialists who are trained to perform every major aspect of spine surgery, including operations for degenerative conditions (e.g. herniated discs, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, back and neck pain, etc.), oncology (e.g. primary and metastatic cancer to the spine, spinal cord tumors, nerve tumors), trauma (e.g. high-impact spine fractures and low-impact osteoporotic fractures), and everything in between. They have the appropriate neurological diagnostic acumen and expertise in evaluating neuro-imaging (MRIs and CT scans) to pinpoint the exact problem, and possess the surgical skill set needed to offer all feasible options (including both minimally-invasive and traditional approaches) to the patient. The breadth and depth of a neurosurgeon’s spinal surgery training translates into the neurosurgeon being the most equipped spinal specialist to deal with any potential complications related to both non-surgical and surgical treatments.
Choose a Board-Certified Spine Surgeon Only
Only spine surgeons Board-Certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS) are neurosurgeons. Here at Virginia Neurosurgeons, all of our surgeons are board-certified by the ABNS and members of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, an organization dedicated to advancing the specialty of neurological surgery in order to promote the highest quality of patient care. Clickhere to contact us for more information.