Neurosurgeon or Orthopedic Surgeon: What’s the Difference?

surgeon operating The spine is a complex anatomical structure. It is actually made up of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and the spinal cord itself.

Some doctors train to treat diseases of the bones, and these are called orthopedic doctors. Those who decide to perform surgery on the bones are called orthopedic surgeons, and some specially trained orthopedic surgeons can perform surgical procedures to treat back pain.

Doctors who specialize in the study of the nerves, spinal cord, and brain are called neurologists. Doctors who perform surgery on any of these organs are called neurosurgeons and have deeper training for all spine injuries.

The question then arises: which doctor is best suited to the back problem that I have? The answer is not a straight forward one, and the lines between these two types of surgeons are blurring. It is important to understand what each surgeon does and how that will impact your back condition and recovery time.

What is an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Orthopedic surgeons generally treat any gross deformation of the skeleton. If you have a fracture of a long bone, need a joint replaced, or experience trauma that impacts a bone, you will most likely need an orthopedic surgeon. Like their neurosurgeon counterparts, they undergo a rigorous four to five year residency in orthopedic medicine. In large facilities, they may actually experience as many spinal surgeries as the neurosurgeon, but in smaller cities, they may see a wide range of orthopedic bone injuries.

Like the neurosurgeon, they also have particular conditions that they specialize in. Most scoliosis cases – either adolescent onset or adult complications arising from scoliosis – are still treated by orthopedic surgeons.

About the author

BASIC Spine is associated with the Center of Excellence at Chapman Medical Center. Dr. G. Thaiyananthan the founder and CEO is a board certified medical director for their Blue Distinction Center of Excellence and our medical facility was the first to offer advanced stem cell therapy with the inSRT product. Winning the Patience Choice Award for three years running, the insight and experience shared is offered to help better the world of which we live in. Often doctors and patients reach for the most invasive procedure to heal an injured back. Sometimes patients feel that only back surgery will "cure" them, or a doctor may feel that spinal surgery is the only way to handle the problem. In some situations, surgery is a viable treatment, but we believe strongly in utilizing the least invasive measures first. BASIC Spine is your one stop practice for all of your spinal problems. We are a dedicated group of chiropractors, physical therapists, pain management specialists, and spine surgeons who want to find the best way to treat your spine. We pride ourselves on our interdisciplinary approach, and we have a specific treatment philosophy that informs all our recommendations. If you need help in your quest regain the life and freedoms that pain has taken away from you. Please, reach out to us and let us help you. We are the Brain And Spine Institute of California. Call (866) 398-0868


My father is a board certified Gastroenterologist and a fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. Over his career, he has become good friends with multiple Orthopedic Spinal Surgeons and Neurosurgeons. My dad’s best friend growing up died from leukemia during his neurosurgical fellowship. He would always tell my father the same thing; that a Neurosurgeon will always do a much more softer, more aligned, more flawless job of performing surgery on a spine than an Orthopedic Spinal Surgeon. A large factor that contributes to a Neurosurgeon’s capabilities over an Orthopedic Spinal Surgeon is their training. Neurosurgeons deal with extremely critical, precise, and careful surgical techniques. Think of it this way. What do you think with happen if an Orthopedic Surgeon accidentally sliced through a bone during surgery; he would reattach the bone, right? What do you think would happen if a Neurosurgeon accidentally sliced through a major nerve during surgery; the patient would become paralyzed, right? This is why Neurosurgeons are trained to perform much more critical, more precise, more careful surgical techniques than Orthopedic Spinal Surgeons, and that is why Neurosurgeons are the best possible choice for a spinal operation.


    this is a really great response and your insight and experience living with this background in your family and sharing your view is what helps everyone better understand. Thank you and please feel free to share your views on our write ups. We thank you for your time!


    BASIC Staff

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