What Type of Doctor Should I See for Spinal Fusions?

If a spine specialist has told you that you may need to undergo a spinal fusion at one or more vertebral levels to treat neck or back pain caused by a degenerative spine condition, your first question was likely, “What type of doctor should I see for spinal fusions?”

Spinal fusions are highly complex surgical procedures that effectively fuse two or more adjacent vertebrae, and these operations are typically performed by orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons.

Orthopedic Surgeons & Neurosurgeons

Orthopedic surgeons perform surgery to treat disorders of the musculoskeletal system, which includes the vertebrae, intervertebral discs, ligaments and other spinal components. Neurosurgeons perform surgery to treat disorders of the nervous system, which includes the spinal cord and nerve roots. The type of surgeon that will be most qualified to perform surgery will depend largely on the exact degenerative condition with which you’ve been diagnosed.

For example, if you’re in the late stages of facet joint disease and have bone spurs compressing multiple spinal nerve roots in your lower back (lumbar spine), an orthopedic surgeon may be the best doctor to remove the bone spurs and fuse the affected vertebrae. Or, if a severely ruptured disc in your neck (cervical spine) has compressed the spinal cord, a neurosurgeon may be better suited to remove the disc and complete a spinal fusion procedure.

Are You a Candidate?

You should know that surgery to treat degenerative spine conditions is typically reserved as a last-resort treatment effort. For most patients, conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, pain medication, anti-inflammatory drugs and others are generally able to relieve the symptoms most commonly associated with degenerative spine conditions.

However, if a number of conservative treatments have failed to provide you with meaningful relief from your symptoms after several weeks or months, and your quality of life has decreased significantly as a result of your chronic back pain, it’s entirely possible that you’d be a candidate for spinal fusion.

Do Your Research

It is in your best interest to thoroughly research spinal fusion procedures and the types of doctors that perform them before you consent to any procedure. Spinal fusion is a serious undertaking and you should have a clear understanding of the advantages and limitations associated with every aspect of the procedure.