What Is the Difference Between a Spine Surgeon and a Neurosurgeon?

What Is the Difference Between a Spine Surgeon and a Neurosurgeon?

When it comes to caring for your spine, you have two main options, working with a neurosurgeon or a spine surgeon. Spine surgeons are also commonly referred to as orthopedic surgeons.

Either can help with a range of spine problems. They offer spine surgery as well as less invasive treatments. Both spine surgeons and neurosurgeons are highly qualified. But most people want to know a bit more about what sets them apart before choosing who to see after slip and fall, work, or car accidents.

Both Can Specialize in Treating Spine Conditions

Both spine surgeons and neurosurgeons can be specialized in spinal injuries and disorders. A spine surgeon will typically be an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in working on spines. Spines are just one of many specialties that a neurosurgeon can choose.

Both spine surgeons and neurosurgeons can treat slippage of the spine, bone tumors in the spine, and fractures of the spine. They can also treat spinal stenosis, disc degenerations, disc herniations, and other conditions. There are also spine specialists from either category that focus on pediatric patients.

Training for Each

As mentioned, both medical professionals can specialize in spines. But, they reach that specialization via slightly different paths.

Spine Surgeons

As mentioned, most “spine surgeons” are orthopedic surgeons who have chosen to specialize in spines. All orthopedic surgeons go through a training program that lasts four or five years. This includes at least some exposure to learning spine surgery.

Those who plan to specialize in spine surgery will try to complete their orthopedic residency at institutions with spine surgeons. That location exposes future spine surgeons to a high volume of spine surgeries, typically several hundred.

Spine surgeons can also follow up on their residency with an additional fellowship in the field of spine surgery. That fellowship typically lasts one or two years.

There are more than 100 fellowships available for spine specialization in the United States and Canada, just from the NASS alone.


Neurosurgeons complete a residency program that is six or seven years. It includes both surgical and non-surgical treatment. By the end of most top neurosurgery programs, a neurosurgeon has assisted with several hundred spinal procedures. This is a similar figure to spine surgeons who complete their residency with spine specialists.

From there, they may complete a fellowship in spine surgery after their residency. This fellowship is similar to that completed by spine surgeons and lasts one or two years.

Conditions Treated

There are also some differences in the conditions that neurosurgeons and spine surgeons tend to treat. Of course, there is also significant overlap.

Conditions Typically Treated by Neurosurgeons

Only neurosurgeons receive training during residency to complete procedures inside the dura. This is the spinal canal lining. This means that a neurosurgeon will always be the one to treat conditions involving this area. This includes spinal cord arteriovenous malformation or Chiari malformation.

Conditions Typically Treated by Spine Surgeons

Spinal deformities are still mostly under the domain of orthopedic spine surgeons. This applies both to adults and pediatric patients. This leaves plenty of specialization for spine surgeons. Scoliosis alone affects between six and nine million people just within the United States, according to the AANS.

Look for Spine Experience 

If you need treatment for a condition affecting the spine, your focus should be on the experience of the surgeon. It should not matter whether they are a spine surgeon or neurosurgeon. Make sure that you choose a surgeon who works just with spines, as this will ensure their skills are up to date.

At New York Spine Specialist, we treat patients for acute and chronic pain in the spine after an auto accident,  work-related injuries, slip-and-fall trauma. If you are experiencing pain, we are here to help and offer the right treatment for your condition.

Call (516) 355-0111 to schedule an appointment with an experienced spine surgeon near you. Our doctors accept workers’ compensation, no-fault, and other insurance plans.