The number one reason back surgery fails is because of an incorrect diagnosis. Finding an experienced, skilled spine surgeon will help increase the odds of getting a correct diagnosis and a corrective surgery.

A surgeon with good results and appropriate qualifications will not be threatened by these types of questions and will respect your attention to these matters.

See Red Flags to Notice When Choosing a Spine Surgeon

Questions to Ask the Surgeon

For most types of spine surgery, the real question to ask is not whether to select an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon, but rather, "What specific surgeries does this surgeon specialize in?" For example:

  • Some surgeons have a deep expertise in certain kinds of cervical spine surgeries
  • Others will devote a third or more of their practice to operative intervention for lumbar disorders

Some more telling questions to ask your surgeon are questions such as:

  • "How many of these specific surgeries do you do each year?"
  • "How much of your practice is focused on this specific type of surgery?" All types of spine surgery have a steep learning curve, and as a general rule, surgeons with more experience in the specific surgery will have better results.
  • “What types of complications and risks are experienced with this type of surgery?”

    See Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS): What It Is and How to Avoid Pain after Surgery


Other questions, such as the surgeon's outcomes for the specific surgery in question, are also important.

See Specific Questions to Ask Your Spine Surgeon

For most types of spine surgery, careful selection of the individual surgeon is far more important than whether the surgeon is a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon. Selecting an appropriately experienced and skilled surgeon gives patients an improved chance of having the right type of surgery and a favorable outcome. Reading articles such as this to get educated on the subject is a good first step in the process.

See Preparing to See A Doctor for Back and Neck Pain

Dr. Stephen Hochschuler is an orthopedic surgeon and co-founder of the Texas Back Institute. He specializes in the lumbar spine and has been a practicing spine surgeon for more than 40 years.