“If I need to be evaluated for a spinal problem, or if I need spinal surgery, should I see a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon?”
In today’s world of medicine, spine surgery is incorporating both specialties as both sets of doctors understand the importance of the other’s craft.
In the world of medicine, there are no set spine specialists in terms of being board certified, so this can be worrisome and confusing for some patients.
A neurosurgeon is someone who is certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, and an orthopedic surgeon receives their certification from the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery. In the future, there could very well be a spine specialist, but for now, the two specialties will continue to work together to provide patients with their combined level of expertise.
Neurosurgeons across the country endure rigorous training in all aspects of surgical and non-surgical practices in regard to the treatment of the spine. After completing an accredited medical program, they will then go on to a six-seven year residency program where they will have a hands-on learning experience to hundreds of spinal procedures. Although neurosurgeons are thought to be brain surgeons, many procedures performed by neurosurgeons are spine-related.
Orthopedic Surgeon Training
Much like neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons must endure a high level of training and experience a four to five-year residency program following their education in medical school. When in their residency program, they are exposed to a wide variety of spine surgeries with a heavy emphasis on trauma and joint operations as well. This specialty, much like neurosurgery, has the option to specialize in the spine as well to gain further knowledge and increase skill set.
Both Disciplines Can Specialize in Spine Surgery
Throughout the years, both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons have furthered their education and training when it comes to the spine to help them better treat their patients. Both can be referred to as spine specialists as both have the potential to treat conditions such as disc herniations and degenerative disc conditions, spinal stenosis, and scoliosis.
Although neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons share much in common in regards to their knowledge of the spine, there are a few things that set them apart. Neurosurgeons specialize in an area called the dura, which is located in the lining of the spinal canal.
Thus, spinal cord tumors, arachnoid cysts, syringomyelia, Chiari malformation, spinal cord arteriovenous malformation, diplomyelia or diastematomyelia, tethered spinal cord, spina bifida or myelomeningocele, lipomyelomeningocele, tumors at the junction of the base of the skull and upper cervical spine, nerve root tumors, and a few other diagnoses still fall under the domain of the neurosurgeon.
Sharing the Same Interests
With so many medical advances and the drive to learn more on both ends of the specialties, both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons in recent years have put aside differences and the competition and realized that by joining forces and skillsets, they could help far more patients.
Many international scientific organizations now open their doors to physicians from both specialties such as the North American Spine Society, the Scoliosis Research Society, the Cervical Spine Research Society, and others. This friendship and professional association of orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons will be of great benefit to patients.
Speak up, Ask Questions!
When learning, you may need spine surgery that alone can be unsettling, but what can be even more disturbing is to learn that your orthopedic surgeon specializes more in joint care than spine surgery or that your neurosurgeon focuses more on areas of the brain and has less knowledge of the spine.
As a patient in today’s society, use your ability to access research and learn about the doctors who are working with you and, if unable to do that, ask the hard questions. Ask your surgeon about their training and their specialty and ensure that they have laid out all the options for you.
Our team at AICA Orthopedics has specialized Atlanta spine doctors who can help treat a variety of conditions and doctors who continue to develop their skillset through continued education and training. Call today at (404) 855-2141.