If you are considering surgery to relieve your lower back pain, neck pain, or treat a spinal condition, you should carefully consider who you want to perform your surgery. There are three primary factors you should consider when choosing a spine surgeon:
FAQs About Choosing a Spine Surgeon
What type of education should a spine surgeon have?
Your spine is a delicate network of bones, nerves, tendons, ligaments that not only is central to your physical structure but protects the nerves that carry all messages from the brain to the rest of the body. Considering that, it’s natural to be nervous about having spine surgery.
One of the things you can do to help increase your confidence (which, by the way, is linked to better outcomes) is to carefully research and select your surgeon. We recommend starting by considering the education and training of the surgeons you are considering.
First, understand that there is not a medical specialty in spine surgery. Instead, a physician must train as either a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon, then obtain specialized training in treating spine conditions. The primary difference between the two specialties is that orthopedic surgeons provide expertise in treating the musculoskeletal system while neurosurgeons provide expertise in the nervous system. The spine involves both the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.
Whether you choose an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon for your spine surgery, you should consider the physician’s training in spine care. Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons can complete spine fellowships, which are typically one year in length and involve in-depth training in spine surgery and spinal procedures, as well as contributing to peer-reviewed publications.
How much experience should a spine surgeon have?
When choosing a spine surgeon, the experience of your spine surgeon can impact your outcome. For example, a study published in Neurosurgery1 found that complication rates of spine stenosis surgeries completed by spine surgeons who had performed fewer than 15 surgeries in four years was 38 percent higher when compared with spine surgeons who had performed 80 or more spinal stenosis surgeries during the same period.
An experienced spine surgeon—someone who has performed the spine procedure for 5 years or more or performed the spine procedure at least 30 times—may result in*:
- Reduced complications
- Better screening of patients (and lower rates of patients referred for surgery)
- Lower infection rates
- Lower complication rates
- Decreased length of hospital stay
- Reduced reoperation rates
What questions should I ask a spine surgeon ?
In addition to weighing your spine surgeon’s experience, it’s also important to make sure you feel comfortable with your spine surgeon.
Whether you choose to have your spine surgery with Neurosurgery One (formerly South Denver Neurosurgery) or another spine surgeon, we encourage you to ask the following questions to help you select a Denver spine surgeon that is best for you and your condition:
- Have you completed this procedure before? If so, how many times?
- What is your complication rate when performing this procedure?
- What are the most common complications of this procedure?
- What is your infection rate?
- Do you have any statistics in regard to your surgery success?
- What does recovery from this procedure look like/entail?
- Do you have a forum where I can talk to previous patients?
How important is being comfortable with your spine surgeon?
Even if a spine surgeon checks all the qualification boxes, if you don’t like the surgeon or are not comfortable talking with them, you won’t get as good of care as you could if you chose a surgeon who is a better fit.
“Fit” is very personal. Some patients prefer spine surgeons who present lots of medical evidence to support their recommendations; others want someone who is professional but personable. While you should never overlook education and experience, you should consider the surgeon’s demeanor, how the surgeons treats you, and whether the surgeon feels like a good fit. Here are some questions to keep in mind:
- Do you have the surgeon’s full attention?
- Is the surgeon someone you feel comfortable with?
- Does the surgeon help you understand all of your options and the pros and cons of each? Does the surgeon provide you with research to support treatment recommendations?
- Do you feel like the surgeon is working to find the best treatment for your particular case? Do you feel like the surgeon is supportive of your decisions?
Will my spine surgeon resent me for requesting a second opinion?
This is a common misconception and fear of many patients. Good physicians, including spine surgeons, do not get upset if you ask for a second opinion. In fact, many good spine surgeons — including the spine surgeons at Neurosurgery One — will welcome you getting a second opinion because it often gives you more confidence in the recommendation your surgeon has made.
In some cases, second opinions are required by your insurance company. Spine surgery is not something to be rushed into — or feel like you’re being bullied into. The only time a physician might disagree with you getting a second opinion is if you are in an emergency situation and your condition will be harmed by waiting for a second opinion. We will tell you if this is the case.
If you are considering requesting a second opinion, be open and honest with your spine surgeon. Let your surgeon know the honest reason why you are seeking a second opinion. It’s OK to say that you are not sure about the surgery recommendation and would like to see what another surgeon recommends. You might even want to ask your spine surgeon or your primary care provider to recommend where to get a second opinion.
If you would like a second opinion from Neurosurgery One, we are happy to provide one. In many cases, we can provide this via telehealth by reviewing your records, imaging, and meeting with you virtually. Schedule a second opinion appointment.