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What’s the Difference Between a Spine Surgeon and a Neurosurgeon?

Many spine surgeries are performed by both neurosurgeons and spine surgeons. So which should you choose? What’s the difference between a spine surgeon and a neurosurgeon?

what's the difference between a spine surgeon and a neurosurgeon

What is a Spine Surgeon?

A spine surgeon is a type of orthopedic surgeon trained to treat disorders of the vertebral column.

What is an orthopedic surgeon?

An orthopedic surgeon focuses on treatment of the musculoskeletal system including bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons. There are general orthopedic surgeons and are others who specialize in one area of the body such as: hand, foot and ankle, hip and knee, shoulder and elbow, or spine.

A spine surgeon is a doctor trained in treating disorders related to the bones, joints and soft tissues in and around the spine.

What is a Neurosurgeon?

In the most general sense a neurosurgeon, or someone who performs neurological surgery, is a doctor trained on the management of disorders of the nervous system.

What, specifically, do we mean by the nervous system?

Neurosurgeons treat the nervous system including its structures (ie: brain, nerves), their supporting structures (ie: the spine) and blood supply (ie: arteries).

Because neurosurgeons can also treat the structures which support the nervous system, they sometimes perform spinal surgery (ie: spinal fusion).

So, that begs the question…

…What’s the Difference Between a Spine Surgeon and a Neurosurgeon?

Both the neurosurgeon and the spine surgeon can perform some of the common spine surgeries such as a spinal fusion. So, how do they differ?

One difference in these two specialists lies in their training. While the neurosurgeon’s training is focused on the brain and nervous system, the spine surgeon’s training focuses on treating the spine.

Another difference lies in what these individuals do every day. A neurosurgeon may treat a concussion, head injury and spinal disorder all in the same day, while the spine surgeon is treating disorders of the spine almost exclusively. Not only does this mean that the spine surgeon is more focused on the spine, but it can also mean the spine surgeon may have performed a spinal fusion many more times than a neurosurgeon. This additional experience gives spinal surgeons more opportunities to hone their skills.

Finally, oftentimes when people are referred to neurosurgeons the surgeon is only involved with the patient for the surgery. After the surgery, the patient may then be referred to a rehabilitation or physical therapy program and not have any further contact with the surgeon. In contrast, a spine surgeon typically continues to treat their patient after the surgery. The patient may undergo physical therapy, but will also have follow up appointments with their spine surgeon so they can monitor progress and adjust treatment, as necessary.

A spine surgeon is a doctor that has been specially trained and focuses their everyday practice on treating disorders of the spine. A neurosurgeon may technically be able to perform the same surgery as a spine surgeon, but they don’t have the hyperfocus of a spine surgeon.

Food for thought… Most Italian restaurants have pizza on their menu. But when I want pizza, I’d rather go to a pizza restaurant, one that focuses on making pizza, day-in and day-out.

 

References:

Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery