What Type of Surgeon Works on the Spine?

July 31st, 2022 Becki Andrus
What Type of Surgeon Works on the Spine?

If you have been living with back pain for a while and haven’t been able to find a treatment that works, then you might be looking for a back surgeon to explore additional options.

Visiting a surgeon doesn’t necessarily mean that you will go under the knife. Many of these specialists offer a range of treatment options, intending to use minimally-invasive techniques first. Surgery is the final option if the other treatments aren’t providing the desired results.

One detail you will need to consider is the type of surgeon you should visit for back pain. For most types of spinal conditions, there are options to talk to a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon. It’s essential to consider the root cause of your pain and any underlying conditions when choosing a doctor.

Both Orthopedic Surgeons and Neurosurgeons Specialize in Spine Surgery

Many years ago, a neurosurgeon was the primary type of provider offering spine surgery. But the medical industry has evolved in the last 25 years, and now orthopedic surgeons can also be great resources for patients who need spine surgery.

Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons are qualified to complete these surgeries. But their specialties vary slightly, so it’s a good idea to find a doctor who focuses on the subspeciality you need.

Orthopedic Surgeons

To become an orthopedic surgeon, it’s necessary to complete a medical degree. Then, 5 years of surgical residency continue the training, specifically focusing on musculoskeletal conditions.

Orthopedic surgeons focus on disorders that affect the bones and joints, such as:

  • Spinal disorders
  • Bone tumors
  • Arthritis
  • Sports injuries
  • Hand and leg deformities or injuries
  • Joint replacement

While the orthopedic specialty includes all parts of the musculoskeletal system, it’s common for orthopedic surgeons to specialize in a specific body part.

For example, some orthopedic surgeons work primarily on spine and back conditions. Other surgeons spend their time with patients who need surgery on other joints, such as the shoulders, knees, or hips.


Neurosurgeons not only attend and graduate from medical school but also continue their education and training with 5 – 6 years of residency focusing on surgery for neurological conditions. Neurosurgeons specialize in disorders that involve:

  • Nerves
  • Spinal cord
  • Spine
  • Brain
  • Intracranial and intraspinal vasculature

You can find neurosurgeons specializing in spine surgery, which can be a good fit for some patients with back pain. Other neurosurgeons focus on brain surgeries primarily. Some neurosurgeons offer both brain and spine surgeries.

An Accurate Diagnosis Matters for Success with Back Surgery

One of the most common reasons why back surgery fails is because of an incorrect diagnosis. Therefore, before scheduling surgery, it’s essential to identify the underlying cause of your chronic pain.

A skilled spine surgeon can complete a range of tests, diagnostics, and examinations to determine your diagnosis. Then, the ideal treatment plan or corrective surgery can be planned.

When the condition is related to the musculoskeletal system, you will likely be better off working with an orthopedic surgeon. But if it’s a nerve-related back condition, a neurosurgeon might be another option.

Tips for Choosing a Spinal Surgeon

Choosing a spinal surgeon is one of the most important decisions you will make that can affect the outcome of your treatment. Here are a few considerations that you should always keep in mind when comparing surgeons in the area:

Surgeon’s View on Other Treatments

Spine surgery might not be an essential treatment, so it’s wise to explore other possible treatments before booking the surgery. Ask your potential surgeon about alternative, minimally-invasive options you might try before surgery.

A qualified, experienced surgeon will assist with the decision-making process when you are considering spinal surgery. They should take time to educate you about the various treatments and potential risks, giving you a range of options so you can choose the treatments that are ideal for your unique needs.

Education and Experience

Ask questions about the surgeon’s training, experience, and specialties. Not only do you deserve to work with a surgeon with many years of experience in this specialty, but also make sure they stay up-to-date with the latest technology and surgical advancements.

Find out how much time the surgeon dedicates to spine surgery vs. other types of orthopedic treatments. When a surgeon spends most of their time treating spinal conditions, then it means that they are likely more adept compared to other doctors who only complete spinal surgery occasionally.

Personality and Bedside Manner

While the surgeon’s education and experience are some of the most important details to consider, don’t underestimate the importance of the right personality fit. You need to trust the surgeon that you are working with.

Consider your interactions when you meet for a consultation. Was the surgeon attentive to listening to your needs and answering your questions? How did the office staff treat you on the phone and in-person?

Insurance Network and Coverage

Also, consider whether the surgeon is in your insurance network. Finding an in-network surgeon helps to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.

Talk to your insurance provider to find referrals within your network. Another option is to find a local spine surgeon you would like to consult with, then call the office to see if they accept your insurance plan.

Do You Need a Referral to Meet with a Spine Surgeon?

If you are visiting a primary care doctor for chronic pain, then there is a likelihood that they will refer you to meet with a specialist. When the pain is unbearable, a general doctor doesn’t have the experience and training to get to the root of these conditions.

Your doctor might refer you to meet with a spine surgeon. Or, you can skip the step of talking to a primary care physician for a referral. For example, many patients reach out to us directly when they are not achieving the pain relief results they desire.

Also, it’s a good idea to check with your insurance provider to see if a referral is necessary. Some insurance companies require a referral before a patient meets with a specialist.

Orthopedic Consultation: Is Spine Surgery Right for You?

If you are tired of living with back pain, then Orthopedic Associates is the team to call. We have spine specialists in our office and provide a full range of services for people of all ages. Whether you are just starting your pain relief journey or have reached the point where surgery is your final option, we are here to help.

At Orthopedic Associates, we can assist with both chronic pain and acute injuries. In addition, our doctors have a variety of specialties and can help with sports injuries and more. Book an appointment or call our office at your convenience: (972) 420-1776.


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