Neurosurgeon vs. Neurologist
A neurosurgeon has the trained knowledge and ability to operate on the nervous system for a variety of conditions. Not everything a neurosurgeon could treat is traditionally associated with the profession, as neurosurgeons do not only learn how to perform surgery on the brain as some might believe. Neurosurgeons are specialized medical doctors who are specifically trained to operate on not only the brain but also the spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and cerebrovascular system. In other words, they diagnose, rehabilitate, and treat any part of the nervous system that has been damaged by a variety of disorders.1 They are not neurologists, who are concerned with the treatment of and recovery from neurological disorders in different ways.
Both medical professions treat various conditions, such as stroke, dementia, seizures, neuropathy, radiculopathy, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, neuromuscular diseases, neuralgia, and head trauma. Neurosurgeons and neurologists also both perform various diagnostic tests, such as CAT, MRI, EEG, EMG, and sometimes lumbar punctures.2 Education between the two fields is different. Treatment plans also vary due to the differences in learning and background knowledge for each profession. Neurologists prescribe medication and other therapies, treatment options which are meant to both affect the neurologic function of the patient for the better through both mental and, to some extent, physical changes in a noninvasive manner.3
What is a Neurosurgeon?
Neurosurgery is focused on performing invasive surgical solutions, directly intervening in problems with the physicality of the neurological aspects of the body. Neurosurgeons may also directly treat brain tumors, cerebral hemorrhages, spinal disc herniation, and peripheral neuropathy. There might be cases where neurosurgeons and neurologists work within the same practice or on the same patient to treat different aspects of the patient’s negative neurological condition.
Education for those who wish to become a neurosurgeon includes the attendance of an undergraduate medical school, in addition to at least 6 years of a neurosurgery residency program. Neurosurgery is delicate and precise work, with no room for errors, so it is important that those who pursue the profession understand the importance of the work that they wish to do, and the amount of education needed to properly perform surgery. Some of the specialties of neurosurgery include:
- neurovascular surgery (stroke/cerebral disorders),
- interventional neuroradiology (using image-based techniques for minimally invasive head/neck/spine surgery),
- neuro-oncology (cancer), and
- pediatric neurosurgery (children).4
Conditions and Treatments
In the field of neuroradiology, various scanning techniques are used to provide minimally invasive surgery. The more knowledge that the doctor has of the patient’s condition, the more they are able to minimize unnecessary aspects of the surgery. Doctors may utilize CT, MRI, PET, MEG, or other scans during the surgery. Spinal surgery may also include microsurgery techniques, such as laminectomy, microdiscectomy, and artificial discs. Some neurosurgeons operate endoscopically. While others specialize in cancer and utilized radiosurgical methods such as tools like the Gamma knife, Cyberknife, and the Novalis Shaped Beam Surgery. Neurosurgeons treat many disorders, from cervical or lumbar spinal stenosis to hydrocephalus, from spinal cord trauma to infections and tumors, from epilepsy and psychiatric disorders to vascular malformations. As noted before, they can also treat such things like spinal disc herniation, cancer, and movement disorders.5
While neurosurgeons do have a general overall knowledge of their field, some might choose to focus on specific aspects of their profession in order to provide even more specifically learned care. Some neurosurgeons specialize in pediatric conditions. Others may focus on treating diabetic neuropathy, also known as numbness primarily in the extremities, or trigeminal neuralgia, which are painful facial spasms. They may even operate on patients with osteoporosis or whiplash if it seems like the expertise of a neurosurgeon required in such a situation.6 Neurosurgeons are not just “brain surgeons”. They actually spend most of their time treating spine problems. Neurosurgeons may also see patients for common conditions such as repetitive stress disorders, sciatica, sports injuries, and even pinched nerves.7
Orthopedic Surgeons vs. Neurosurgeons
It is not uncommon for patients to choose between neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons for their care, as there can actually be some relevant crossover between the two fields. Generally, orthopedic surgeons may focus more on such conditions like and related to spinal deformity, where neurosurgeons are more qualified to perform surgery on the inside of the dura in the spinal cord. This is a procedure which is also known as intradural surgery.8
In choosing surgery as a treatment option, patients need to weigh the risks versus the benefits and select the therapy and provider that is best for them. Before considering something as extreme and invasive as surgery, patients may opt to start with more conservative care for their conditions, such as chiropractic treatment. Surgery, though sometimes found to be the only option, is generally a last resort for most patients where their conditions might be otherwise treated with traditional or alternative care treatment options.
Learn more about Peripheral Nerve Injury