Neurosurgeon or Orthopedic Surgeon?

Spine conditions are common, and many different types of doctors offer care for problems related to the back and neck. 

Which Specialist Should I See?

Patients who have complex problems involving the bones and nerves in the spine usually do best under the care of a specialist. This is especially true when patients may be candidates for surgical treatment of their condition.

When this is the case, often patients wonder if they should choose a neurosurgeon (a surgeon specializing in problems related to the nerves), or an orthopedic surgeon (a surgeon specializing in problems with the bones).

Seek Expertise in Treating Your Condition

Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons are highly skilled in treating problems related to the spine. For many conditions that require a surgical specialist, a well-qualified neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon will be able to provide effective, comprehensive care. Rather than asking "which specialty" is best, it usually makes more sense to ask about the training and experience a particular surgeon has had in treating a specific condition.

There are some relatively rare problems that are best served by one specialist — for example, spinal cord tumors and other intradural conditions are treated by neurosurgeons, while adult scoliosis and other spinal deformities are usually treated by orthopaedic spine surgeons. In these cases, at a comprehensive Spine Center like the one at Beth Israel Deaconess we can quickly guide the patient to the right specialist.

Benefits of Both

For cases that present special challenges, it can be extremely helpful to have the perspective of both specialists. That's because each is likely to have a different way of "seeing" the patient and the problem. By sharing these different perspectives, specialists may be able to design a plan of care that is more complete than if either were caring for the patient alone.

Advantage of a Multidisciplinary Spine Center

The BIDMC Spine Center's model of care illustrates how this can work. We routinely hold multidisciplinary conferences, where both types of specialists (and our physiatrists ) discuss patients under their care. By designing this type of collaboration into our program, we give our patients the benefit of a combined approach to care — one that not only uses the full range of each specialist's expertise, but also ensures a truly customized and comprehensive plan of care for each patient.

Please ask your doctor any questions you may have about which specialists you should see for your condition, what each has to offer, and how specialists work together to coordinate your care.