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Which type of Surgeon? Orthopedic Surgeon or Neurosurgeon?

BruceBBruce Posts: 516
edited 12/21/2015 - 5:24 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Which type of Surgeon? Orthopedic Surgeon or Neurosurgeon?

We are frequently asked on this message board “Which surgeon is better? An Orthopedic Surgeon or Neurosurgeon? The truth is, depending upon your specific condition, probably either in many situations.

As you can read here, both can perform a wide range of spine surgery so, much more of an issue for most of us should be, not which type of surgeon, but the specific area of expertise, qualifications, practical experience and success rate in your type of surgery, of the surgeon that you choose. Also very important is choosing a surgeon who you feel you can communicate easily with.

So, anyway, still what is the difference?

Simplistically, neurosurgeons work on the nervous system, while orthopedic surgeons work on “bones”. But this is too simplistic, as many of our spinal problems involve both the nerves (spinal cord) and bones (e.g. vertebrae). The following is a better “Surgeon 101” definition:

“Neurosurgeons focus on diagnosis and treatment of the brain and nervous system, such as the brain, spine and spinal cord, nerves, and blood vessels within the skull. Neurosurgeons must complete a five to six year training program in a neurological surgery residency program.”

Orthopedic Surgeons
“Orthopedic surgeons diagnose and treat bone and joint disorders such as spinal disorders, arthritis, sports injuries, bone tumors, skeletal deformities, and joint replacements.Orthopedic surgeons complete a five to six year training program in an orthopedic surgery residency.”

Source: Spine-Health Surgeon vs Neurosurgeon Info
The following perhaps gives an even clearer definition and comparison:
Both Can Specialize in Spine Surgery
Unlike in the past, both types of surgeons - neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons - are considered "spine surgeons". Since the spine is a central point of both the skeletal structure and the nervous system, it is an important area for both types of surgeons. Many surgeons of both types sub-specialize to treat exclusively or primarily a single type of condition, such as herniated discs or spinal fractures, or they may specialize in juvenile patients.
Orthopedic surgeons are generally more qualified at treating spinal deformities while neurosurgeons are generally more qualified to treat problems within the dura of the spinal cord.
The most important difference between any surgeons will be their level of experience with the specific procedure you are having done.
Of course expertise, training, experience and track record should be the top priority when determining which surgeon is best, but there are other ‘non technical’ or at least ‘more human’ factors that you also should consider, such as:
- How well does your surgeon communicate with you?
- Will he/she spend the time to answer your questions?
- Does he/she come across as empathizing with you?

Or more simply, how comfortable do you feel with your surgeon?

Spine-health.com also has lots of good information regarding selecting the right surgeon:


Keep positive!


...an old timer here and ex-moderator



  • thanks Bruce that is alot of useful info.
  • I say Neurosurgeon! My dad used an Orthapedica and it did not go well, where I had a Neurosurgeon and had a totally different recovery!

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  • I have to agree with Bruce,

    It depends entirely on the surgeon, on his training and skills. Prior to my three-level fusion in May, I consulted both ortho-and neurosurgeons. I really liked the ortho plus my PCP told me that she would definitely select that particular ortho as he is outstanding. I am really happy I went with him, I had an absolutely pain-free surgery (from the moment I woke up I felt no pain whatsoever) and a very easy recovery. All my symptoms are gone, so needless to say that I am very satisfied.

    So I say, scrutinize the surgeon very very carefully, look at his qualifications, ask other doctors, nurses, and learn all you can about him. Also, prepare yourself for the surgery as well as you can, eat right, try to be in good physical shape, and have a positive attitude.

  • First you need to do your own research on the potential surgeons. Years ago neurosurgeons were the only ones to work on the cervical portion of the spine but now-a-days ortho surgeons do the disc surgeries too. Either surgeon will be fine as long as you do your research on them and you feel comfortable with him/her. For any reason you fell iffy or you get a gut feeling about the doctor, keep looking. My first surgeon was a neuro but the one doing my future surgery is an ortho. Good Luck.
  • HI,

    Mines an Ortho has a good repuation but is a man of few words which is really annoying. He often skims over my questionsand when I left relaise he hasn't answered them!

    The nurses say that he works by, if you don't ask you don't want to know but sometimes the lack of straight talking is quite frustrating. And yes, I told him this too.

    So, I know what a mushroom feels like, In the dark!
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  • I have a spinal sergeon that is both He is the head of a great hospital here in Colorado. So If anyone is looking for a great Dr. or even a 2nd opinion I think my Dr. is one of the best. I have had the great joy of being rejected by Dr.s cause how complex my case is. And had a few that just didn't know how to treat what was going on. I have fusions in neck and back

  • Hi Itsalongwalk,

    Even though my own OS is very approachable, I could relate to your description of feeling like a mushroom, as I had a boss once who was like that. As bad as that was, perhaps it is preferable to have a surgeon who keeps you in the dark. My doc is good at paying attention to me, but for my own piece of mind, I still write them up on a small index cards, let him know that I need to ask him some questions, and then go through item=by-item. Maybe your surgeon is just not a believer in idle chat, but when you present pre-formulated and and very specific questions, he will respond better. Does not hurt trying it.

    Good luck,

  • Hi,
    I am new to the site.I had spinal fusion from T9 to L1 with rods,cage,etc.I had an anterior and posterior approach.I think I am doing well,but would like to hear from others.It's hard to know if you are on track when you don't have a first post op visit with doc until 9 weeks after surgery.Any feedback will be appreciated.
    Thanks Kay
  • I wasn't sure if I needed an Orthopedic Surgeon or Neurosurgeon for my C7 fracture. After talking to both, the neurosurgeon convinced me. My C7 was loose and was affecting my spinal cord. So since the surgery would involve the surgeon working so close to my spinal cord, it was easy to decide on the Neurosurgeon.
  • ToYoung, I was really excited to see someone in Colorado in a post talking about surgeons. I've put a link below to the doc that I'm consulting with about surgery on Monday - he was referred to me by a friend's co-worker who said he's fantastic. Who did you use?

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