How to Choose a Spine Surgeon

Spine, back, and neck problems can lead to various symptoms, including severe pain that affects every move you make. Thanks to modern medical science, you don’t have to live with chronic spine, neck, or back pain. A spine and back surgeon can pinpoint your problem and develop a personalized treatment plan for conditions such as degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, or a herniated disc. Today’s treatment options range from nonsurgical approaches to minimally invasive surgical techniques. It’s important to be aware of every possible option and to be comfortable with a physician before deciding on your treatment.

Let’s say that your pain has finally gotten bad enough that you’re considering spine surgery to help relieve that pain. Having made that decision, the next task is to find the right spine surgeon, and in making your choice, there are several primary considerations to keep in mind.

First, remember that spine surgery is almost always an elective procedure, and there are very few times when it is absolutely essential. You’re the only one who knows your pain level, and the final decision to proceed with the surgery is your decision.

The surgeon’s role is to educate and assist you with your decision, providing information about your range of options, the difficulty and risk of each procedure, and potential benefits. Therefore, it’s important to select a surgeon who helps provide the information you need when deciding on surgery.

Another consideration is whether an orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon should perform the surgery. While each has a different focus in training, generally, both are equally qualified to do most spine surgery. Exceptions would be that a neurosurgeon is generally better suited for tumor surgery, while an orthopedic surgeon is better qualified for correcting a deformity. In reality, neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons often consult together on cases and sometimes work together in the operating room. At the very least, you should make sure that your surgeon is board certified or board eligible in either orthopedic or neurological surgery.

An additional important factor is the amount of the surgeon’s practice that’s devoted to spine surgery. A physician who focuses on spine surgery will be far more adept and current in newer surgical techniques than one who only occasionally performs spine surgery.

The spine surgeon you’re considering should also be open to your questions. For example, what is the specific anatomic condition being addressed? What’s likely to happen if the condition is left untreated? Are there other viable options instead of surgery? What is the risk to benefit ratio, that is, the chance of a bad outcome weighed against the possibility of a good outcome?

If the spine surgeon doesn’t welcome your questions, you should probably consider another surgeon. Further, after the first consultation, the surgeon should recommend a second visit, giving you time to consider your options and think of other questions.

Finally, don’t forget to check on insurance coverage for the procedure.