A neurosurgeon operates on the nervous system for a variety of conditions.
What is a Neurosurgeon?
Neurosurgeons are specialized medical doctors who operate on the spinal cord, brain, peripheral nerves, and cerebrovascular system. In other words, they diagnose, rehabilitate, and treat the nervous system damaged by a variety of disorders.1 They are not neurologists, who are concerned with 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. Neurologists prescribe medication and other therapies. Neurosurgery is focused on performing surgical solutions. Neurosurgeons may also treat brain tumors, cerebral hemorrhages, spinal disc herniation, and peripheral neuropathy. Education for a neurosurgeon includes undergraduate medical school, plus at least 6 years of a neurosurgery residency program. 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).3
Conditions and Treatments
In the field of neuroradiology, various scanning techniques are used to provide minimally invasive 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, and others specialize in cancer and “radiosurgical methods such as Gamma knife, Cyberknife and 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 spinal disc herniation, cancer, and movement disorders.4 Some neurosurgeons specialize in pediatric conditions. Others may treat diabetic neuropathy (numbness) or trigeminal neuralgia (painful facial spasms). They may even operate on patients with osteoporosis or whiplash.5 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.6 It isn’t uncommon for patients to choose between neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons for their care, as there can be crossover between the two fields. Generally, orthopedic surgeons may focus on “spinal deformity”, where neurosurgeons are “more qualified to perform intradural surgery (surgery inside of the dura in the spinal cord)”.7 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 invasive surgery, patients may opt to start with more conservative care for their conditions, such as chiropractic treatment.