A neurosurgeon is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats conditions that affect your nervous system, including your brain, spinal cord and nerves. Despite the “surgeon” part of the word, neurosurgeons provide both surgical and nonsurgical treatments.
A neurosurgeon is a specially trained medical doctor who diagnoses and treats conditions that affect your nervous system — your brain, spinal cord and nerves. Neurosurgeons perform surgery on your nervous system, but they can also provide nonsurgical treatments. They typically try all nonoperative treatment methods — like medications, steroid injections and physical therapies — before recommending surgery.
Neurosurgeons can also diagnose and treat conditions that affect the structures that support your nervous system, including:
Other healthcare providers often consult neurosurgeons due to their extensive training on the nervous system.
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A neurologist is a medical doctor who diagnoses, treats and manages conditions that affect your nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves). A neurologist doesn’t perform surgery.
A neurosurgeon diagnoses and treats nervous system conditions through both surgical and nonsurgical therapies.
If you have a medical condition or injury that affects your nervous system, you may see a neurologist for evaluation and diagnosis. If your neurologist thinks your condition requires or may benefit from surgery, you’ll meet with a neurosurgeon for further medical advice and surgical treatment.
A neurosurgeon assesses, diagnoses and treats conditions that affect your body’s nervous system, which includes your brain, spinal cord and spinal column, and all of your nerves that extend from your spinal cord.
While neurosurgeons can perform complex surgery in your spine and brain, they often suggest nonsurgical or conservative care first. For example, if you have chronic back pain, your neurosurgeon may first recommend anti-inflammatory drugs and/or physical therapy. If your pain doesn’t respond to these treatments, your neurosurgeon may recommend surgery, if possible.
A neurosurgeon is skilled in several surgical and procedure techniques, including:
Neurosurgeons also have thorough training in the tests needed to diagnose and treat neurological conditions. They’re skilled at operating and analyzing the following testing machines:
Some of the most common neurologic conditions a neurosurgeon treat include:
Neurosurgeons perform several kinds of surgeries and procedures depending on the part of your nervous system — or supporting tissues and structures — that’s affected.
Types of brain surgery include:
Types of peripheral nerve surgery include:
Types of spine surgery include:
In most cases, your primary healthcare provider or your neurologist will refer you to see a neurosurgeon if you have a neurological condition that requires or would benefit from an in-depth assessment.
Neurosurgeons have extensive knowledge about your brain, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system and spine, and the conditions that can affect them.
Just because your healthcare provider recommends you see a neurosurgeon, that doesn’t necessarily mean surgery is around the corner.
Instead, it means you’ll receive a comprehensive neurological exam, a review of your symptoms and medical history, and detailed diagnostic imaging to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms. From there, your neurosurgeon — and in some cases, other specialist providers — will determine and discuss the best treatment options for you, whether that’s a nonsurgical treatment, surgical treatment or a combination of both.
It may be helpful to ask your neurosurgeon the following questions during your appointment:
To get the most out of your appointment with your neurosurgeon, it’s helpful to be prepared. Ways to prepare include:
Neurosurgeons complete several years of medical school and residency and undergo extensive training before performing complex surgical procedures involving the nervous system.
To be qualified to perform neurosurgery, a person must successfully complete:
Some neurosurgeons complete a fellowship after residency to specialize in a particular area of neurosurgery, such as the spine or pediatric neurosurgery.
Like all medical professionals, neurosurgeons also need to complete continuing education, such as conferences, research and classes, throughout their career to keep up with advances and technology in their field of medicine.
It takes approximately 14 to 16 years to become a neurosurgeon, including pre-med (undergrad) education, medical school, internship and residency.
Neurosurgeons undergo one of the longest training periods of any medical specialty due to the complexity of the field of medicine.
Some neurosurgery subspecialty fields include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Getting a diagnosis can be overwhelming. But if you have a condition that affects your nervous system, such as chronic pain or Parkinson’s disease, a neurosurgeon can help you manage and treat your condition. They’re experts in their field and have up-to-date knowledge on medications, procedures and surgery that can help you. Your neurosurgeon will work with you to determine a treatment plan that works best for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/09/2022.
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