Orthopedic Surgeon vs. Neurosurgeon: Which Doctor is Right for You?

When it comes to spine surgery, it cannot be stressed enough: Choosing the right type of doctor for you is everything.

More specifically, this means deciding, “Should I enlist the skills of a neurosurgeon? Or, is a board-certified orthopedist more suited to address my needs?”

Although both doctors undergo similar levels of training—for instance, each specialist must complete at least five years of surgical residency—their areas of specialty tend to differ in significant ways.

We’ll delve into some of these fundamental differences below before revealing our top recommendation for vetting prospective spine surgeons.

What does a Neurosurgeon do?

A neurosurgeon treats diseases and dysfunctions of the central nervous system—more specifically, the brain and spinal cord—as well as its dense network of nerves.

In layman’s terms, a neurosurgeon focuses primarily on the brain and its communication with the rest of the body. As such, a neurosurgeon is highly qualified to address certain types of brain and spine disorders, including:

  • Brain tumors
  • Intradural tumors (i.e. tumors that originate inside the dural sheath that encases your spinal cord)
  • Birth defects, such as tethered spinal cord syndrome or spina bifida
  • Strokes, aneurysms, and other cerebrovascular events
  • Epilepsy
  • Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, or essential tremor
  • Neurological conditions, such as Multiple Sclerosis or ALS
  • Chronic pain disorders that affect the central or peripheral nervous systems

What does an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon do?

In contrast, an orthopedic surgeon is solely concerned with enhancing the everyday function and mechanics of your musculoskeletal system. More specifically, this includes your spine, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves.

Although by the very nature of both practices there will be some overlap between orthopedics and neurosurgery, it all boils down to this essential difference:

An orthopedist’s primary job is to identify the source of your musculoskeletal pain and to eliminate it.

For example, orthopedists who specialize exclusively in spine surgery devote their practice to resolving the following types of spine issues:

  • Spinal deformities, such as adult and pediatric scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis, or flatback syndrome
  • Degenerative or age-related spine conditions, such as degenerative disc disease, bulging or herniated discs, spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, spondylolisthesis, etc.
  • Arthritic spine conditions, including osteoarthritis, facet joint disease, and ankylosing spondylitis
  • Radiculopathy or pinched nerve conditions such as sciatica or cervical radiculopathy
  • Sports or traumatic spine injuries, including spinal cord injuries or sprains/strains
  • Spinal infections (e.g. osteomyelitis) and vertebral column tumors (VCTs)

As Dr. Lowenstein summarizes, “I tell patients, ‘A neurosurgeon is doing a brain surgery on Monday and a spine surgery on Tuesday. The only thing we do is spine. We are spine specialists. Ask your doctor if they do any other part of the body.”

A gifted spine surgeon often focuses his or her talents exclusively on the spine.

Industry Secrets for Selecting the Best Spine Surgeon for You. Period.

At the end of the day, some of these subtle differences may not mean that much to you. You want the best surgeon that you can find, regardless of their official title. But, how do you weed through the literally hundreds and hundreds of spine surgeons out there who are all clamoring for your business?

It’s actually easier than you may think.

At the bare minimum, you want to choose a spine surgeon who is board-certified and who has maintained a clean malpractice record.

Don’t make the easy mistake of assuming that your doctor is board-certified simply because they’ve graduated from medical school. To achieve board certification, a licensed physician must also complete an additional set of rigorous requirements, which includes standardized testing. A passing test result indicates that your physician has achieved a certain baseline level of proficiency. In other words, you can rest assured that your doctor didn’t simply squeak through medical school.

Likewise, you can use the website healthgrades.com to ensure that your surgeon is free of malpractice claims and disciplinary actions for the state in which he or she practices.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “All of this information is very useful, sure… but, it’s also a little basic.” If you’re ready to take your doctor search to the next level, we’ll reveal how you can really distinguish the “good” from the “outstanding.”

The Secret Sauce of Doctor Selection: Reviews & Fellowships

At the end of the day, you can tell a lot about a doctor by looking closely at two metrics: their fellowship status and Google reviews.

Check your doctor’s fellowship status. Not all doctors are motivated (or even selected) to complete an additional 1-2 years of training on top of 5-6 years of surgical residency and 4 years of medical school.

But, the truly good ones are.

If your surgeon has completed an extra 1-2 years of fellowship training in spine surgery beyond his or her residency requirements, it’s a clear indicator that he or she is the real deal.

Also, why should you trust Google reviews over other metrics?

Because Google makes it nearly impossible to game the system. In fact, the search engine king employs a sophisticated algorithm designed to weed out spam and phony reviews. This makes it much less likely that the reviews are being inflated internally by the practice to enhance a doctor’s likeability, or conversely, deflated by an unscrupulous competitor.

Differences in Recovery Strategies

As you have already seen, neurosurgeons and orthopedists tend to address similar but different aspects of spine health. But, the differences don’t just end there.

Neurosurgeons and orthopedists also employ different strategies of recovery when it comes to treating their patients. Keep in mind that many neurosurgeons work for public or private hospitals. This means that they work closely with a team of experts, such as an in-house stroke or critical care team. After a patient’s surgery, this team takes over the day-to-day case management of the patient. For patients who wish to establish an on-going relationship with their neurosurgeon, this infrastructure may prove slightly more difficult to navigate.

In contrast, orthopedic surgeons often work in private practice, performing their operations at surgical centers or through hospitals at which they’ve established an affiliation. Like neurosurgeons, orthopedists coordinate with a team of rehabilitation experts including physical and occupational therapists. However, in cases where this essential difference in employment structure exists, it often increases the accessibility of the performing surgeon. As a patient, you’ll be more likely to maintain contact with your surgeon throughout your recovery period—a definite advantage.

What You Should Know about our Spine Surgeons

At The Advanced Spine Center, we take our name seriously.

Each of our surgeons has received advanced fellowship training in a particularly sophisticated subdomain of spinal pathology. This means that our spine surgeons are equipped with the expert training to deliver the latest advancements in minimally invasive surgical technology from cutting-edge diagnostics to 3D image-guided, intraoperative navigation.

With a practice rating of 5.0-stars on Google, our surgeons have not only the credentials, but also the prestige to substantiate their skill.

For world-class spine care and advanced spine treatments, contact one of our spine surgeons today!

Meet Dr. Charles A. Gatto

Dr. Charles A. Gatto, a partner at The Advanced Spine Center, is a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon with over 20 years of operating experience.

Dr. Gatto earned his medical degree from Albany Medical College of Union University, where he was awarded The Barnett Award for Excellence in Medicine and The Clark Award for Excellence in Research. He served as Chief Resident at Albany Medical Center before being awarded a 1-year spine fellowship from the same institution in Disease, Disorders, and Surgery of the Spine.

After completing this fellowship, Dr. Gatto served as Attending Surgeon and Clinical Assistant Professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center before joining forces with “NJ’s Top Spine Surgeons” to create The Advanced Spine Center.

Meet Dr. Jason E. Lowenstein

Dr. Jason E. Lowenstein serves as a partner of The Advanced Spine Center. Moreover, he is a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon with over a decade of surgical experience in reversing pediatric and adult spinal deformities, including scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis, and flatback syndrome.

Dr. Lowenstein graduated magna cum laude with an undergraduate degree in neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania. Thereafter, he attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, where he conducted gene therapy research into the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders through the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery’s Growth and Development laboratory.

After earning his MD, Dr. Lowenstein accepted a surgical residency at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. Here, Dr. Lowenstein also conducted research to help clinical staff determine innovative methods for treating spinal deformities, such as spondylolisthesis or scoliosis.

Subsequently, Dr. Lowenstein was accepted for a spine surgery fellowship at the Emory Spine Center/Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Currently, Dr. Lowenstein uses his extensive training in spine surgery to treat patients at The Advanced Spine Center, where he also serves as a partner. With a 4.9-rating on Google and numerous “Top Doctor” honors, Dr. Lowenstein is regarded as an industry-leading expert in scoliosis and spinal deformity treatment.

Meet Dr. George S. Naseef

Dr. George S. Naseef also serves as a partner at The Advanced Spine Center. Like Dr. Gatto and Dr. Lowenstein, Dr. Naseef is also a board-certified, fellowship-trained spine surgeon with nearly 20 years of service—all key markers of extensive training in spine surgery.

More specifically, Dr. Naseef completed his medical education at the Boston University School of Medicine before accepting a surgical residency at Baltimore’s Union Memorial Hospital. While in Baltimore, Dr. Naseef also acquired additional training in pediatric oncology through Johns Hopkins University, currently regarded as the top spine surgery program in the country.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Naseef completed a spine surgery fellowship under the tutelage of the famed surgeon and professor Dr. Michael Neuwirth at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan.

Currently, Dr. Naseef serves as a partner and founding member of The Advanced Spine Center, where his superior surgical skills and bedside manner have earned him a 5.0-star rating on Google and Vitals.com’s Compassionate Doctor Award from 2008-2018.

Making the Right Choice

When it comes to choosing the right spine surgeon, you can’t go wrong with a combination of fellowship experience, local star power, national acclaim, and positive reviews.

At The Advanced Spine Center, our surgeons check all of these blocks and more: We believe in offering compassionate service to supplement our credentials. If you are ready to take the next steps with one of our board-certified, fellowship-trained, and top-ranking spine specialists, contact one of our patient advocates today. We look forward to guiding your recovery journey!