What Is Spinal Neurosurgery?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Spinal neurosurgery is a branch of neurosurgery that focuses on the treatment of spinal disorders, rather than management of surgical conditions in the brain. Practitioners can operate on patients with congenital conditions, tumors, degenerative conditions, and other spinal cord issues. Their specialty training qualifies them for delicate and complex work on the spinal cord, an area where mistakes could cause serious complications for patients.

The spinal cord is a delicate area.
The spinal cord is a delicate area.

Practitioners in spinal neurosurgery can work for surgical centers that focus on spinal treatments, or may work in a hospital where their services are regularly needed. They perform both emergency and elective surgery. Patients brought into a hospital with severe spinal cord injuries tend to have better outcomes when a spinal neurosurgeon treats them, while patients who need non-emergency treatment for spinal conditions may choose to take the time to seek out a spinal neurosurgeon for care.

Severe cases of spinal stenosis may warrant spinal neurosurgery.
Severe cases of spinal stenosis may warrant spinal neurosurgery.

In spinal neurosurgery, physicians can evaluate patients prior to surgery, discuss benefits and risks, and develop a surgical plan. The surgery itself is often done using minimally invasive techniques such as surgical robots. Space in the spinal canal is limited, and the assistance of tools can allow the surgeon to perform more complex and delicate procedures to remove growths, selectively sever nerves, treat spinal stenosis, and engage in other activities.

Individuals who have experienced injury to the spinal cord may have to re-learn low to brush their own teeth.
Individuals who have experienced injury to the spinal cord may have to re-learn low to brush their own teeth.

Some specialists in spinal neurosurgery like to focus on specific medical conditions. They may handle patients with chronic pain and nerve damage, for example, or choose to remove tumors as the bulk of their practice. These practitioners have years of experience with a myriad of cases and may be able to offer better outcomes to their patients on the basis of their depth of knowledge.

Specialists in this area are commonly found in urban areas, where there is a large population of potential patients to draw upon. Patients seeking a spinal neurosurgeon can look up membership at professional organizations, read facility and doctor rankings in medical publications, and ask for referrals from their primary care providers. It can help to interview several surgeons to learn more about their approach, experience, and patient outcomes.

To become a spinal neurosurgeon, it is necessary to complete medical school and a residency in neurosurgery. This provides opportunities to work with patients who have spinal cord conditions in a supervised setting. Doctors may also opt to pursue spinal neurosurgery fellowships to get even more training in this field before they enter clinical practice on their own. Fellowship spots can be highly competitive.

Falls can cause permanent damage to the spinal cord.
Falls can cause permanent damage to the spinal cord.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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