According to the American Academy of Pain Management, back pain is the leading cause of disability among working Americans. Over one half of working Americans suffer from symptoms related to back pain, of varying extents. In fact, studies show that as much as 40% Americans have a herniated disc in their spine, sometimes without even realizing they have a back injury at all. Most of the time, back pain can be improved or completely healed through physical therapy or sometimes just letting the body heal itself. However, approximately 10% of back injuries need to be treated with the help of a back surgeon.
One of the biggest decisions that has to be made when you are facing back surgery is what type spine surgeon to use. Both orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons commonly perform spine surgery and are adequate for most surgeries; however there are specialties within each discipline that may improve the outcome of your needed surgery. Choosing between an orthopedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon largely depends on the type of back injury you are in need of.
A Neurosurgeon is a medical doctor who has completed an additional five to seven years of surgical and neurological specialization. Some neurosurgeon specialties that relate to back pain include:
- Cervical Disc Neurosurgeons: A cervical disc neurosurgeon performs procedure such as spinal disc fusion and artificial cervical disc replacement. A cervical disc neurosurgeon would be the ideal specialist for you if your injury is related to a herniated disc, narrowed spinal canal, and tumors, injuries or infections of the spinal disc.
- Functional neurosurgeons: A functional neurosurgeon specializes in issues that impact movement of the spine, such as Parkinson’s disease and sclerosis.
- Cerebrovascular Neurosurgeons: A cerebrovascular neurosurgeon focuses on spinal issues as they relate to blood vessels in the spine. Some cerebrovascular issues include scoliosis, tumors of the spinal cord, and fractures of the spine.
Orthopedic Surgeon Sub-specialties
An orthopedic surgeon completes education to be a medical doctor and then goes through a five year residency focusing on musculoskeletal conditions. Some orthopedic surgeon sub-specialties that work with back injuries include:
- Orthopedic Spine Surgeon: An orthopedic spine surgeon specializes in back issues related to fractured and dislocated spinal discs, curvature of the spine, and bulging discs.
- Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeon: An orthopedic sports medicine surgeon focuses on injuries of the musculoskeleton (including the back) due to stress or trauma from exercise. If your back injury is a result of an strenuous activity, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon may be your best option.
- Orthopedic Traumatologist Surgeon: An orthopaedic traumatology specialist focuses on musculoskeleton injuries that were the result of trauma, such as a car accident or a previous failed surgery.
Neurosurgeon vs. Orthopedic Surgeon
Much of the work that neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons do overlaps, and in many cases, your back injury could be treated by either specialty. A neurosurgeon may be more qualified to treat issues of the spinal cord lining of the vertebral column. An orthopedic surgeon may be more experienced in skeletal issues of the spinal cord. The most important factor is that you find a medical specialist to treat your back issue who you trust.