When faced with chronic back pain or spinal conditions that require surgical intervention, patients face a litany of choices that can be overwhelming and confusing, perhaps the most important of which is how to choose a surgeon.
If you’re confused about your options, or just want to know the difference between a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon, I’d like to make your decision a little easier by explaining the difference between neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons.
First, it’s important to understand that there’s a substantial difference in the medical training of a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon. Most university hospitals will train eight to ten orthopedic surgery residents per year, and they spend five years performing general orthopedic surgeries like fixing broken bones, scoping knees, placing new hips as well as some spine surgeries. Those orthopedic surgeons who want to go on to work on the spine will do followed by a one-year spine fellowship. By contrast, most hospitals only have two neurosurgery residents, and therefore the surgical volume in both brain and spine surgeries is more numerous per resident during a neurosurgery residency. Since neurosurgery residents spend 7 years exclusively performing brain and spine surgeries, we are much more comfortable working around nerves. Neurosurgeons are also more comfortable in small spaces which require microsurgical techniques. We are capable of resolving potential complications that may arise from a complicated procedure around nerves. Years of specific training not only allow us to operate smoothly, quickly, and with minimal surgical impact, but to deal quickly and safely with any unexpected complications that may arise in surgeries around nerves.
At the end of the day, neurosurgeons are trained specifically for operations on and around the nervous system, and they are trained far more extensively than practically any other surgical field. As you’re considering your surgical options, just ask yourself if these sound like qualities you want in a surgeon.