When you have a problem with your brain, spine, or nervous system, you want answers — and you want them fast. A neurosurgeon may be the ideal specialist to provide the care you need.

Neurosurgeons are specially trained to operate on the brain, spine, and nerves throughout the body. After completing 4 years of medical school, they complete a 7-year surgical training residency. Some neurosurgeons complete an additional 2 or 3 years of fellowship training. Most neurosurgeons are board-certified, which means they have completed an accredited neurosurgery residency program and, after several years in practice, passed an examination given by the American Board of Neurological Surgery. UPMC neurosurgeons are among the most experienced and specialized in the world, treating the entire array of neurosurgical conditions.

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Neurosurgeons Perform Expert Complex Surgeries

The American Academy of Neurological Surgeons reports that neurosurgeons focus on specific types of conditions. For example, some neurosurgeons focus only on brain or skull issues. Others specialize in specific types of spinal problems, such as cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) disorders, blood vessel problems of the brain and/or spine, or brain and spinal cord injury.

Most neurosurgeons specialize in disorders that affect adults. Pediatric neurosurgeons receive additional fellowship training in caring for infants and children.

Neurosurgeons Provide Ongoing Medical Care

As surgeons, neurosurgeons spend much of their time either preparing for surgery or operating on patients. But they also provide ongoing care for many conditions of the brain, spine, or peripheral nerves.

That’s because surgery is often not the first or only treatment option. Despite their focus on surgical solutions, neurosurgeons prefer to start with less invasive treatment options whenever possible.

For example, if you visit a neurosurgeon for back pain, you may be surprised to receive anti-inflammatory medicines and/or a referral to physical therapy. If your condition doesn’t improve with these treatments, your neurosurgeon then may recommend surgery.

Getting the Neurosurgery Care You Need

In general, either your primary care provider or another doctor will refer you to a neurosurgeon once they have made a diagnosis. The referring doctor could be your primary family doctor, a neurologist, an endocrinologist (hormone specialist), an orthopaedist, or an emergency doctor. Here are some examples of when you might receive such a referral:

If you have Parkinson’s disease that is no longer controlled by medicine. Your neurologist may refer you to a neurosurgeon to discuss deep brain stimulation. This surgical procedure implants a thin wire (electrode) in the area of the brain causing the abnormal movements.

If your primary doctor or endocrinologist suspects that you have a tumor in your pituitary gland. The pituitary, known as the body’s master gland, is located in the center of your skull. Pituitary tumors may cause vision loss or produce excessive hormones that affect how your body functions. They generally are removed surgically.

If you have back pain and your orthopaedist suspects a problem in the spine or spinal cord. Both orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons operate on the bones and nerves of the spine. But only neurosurgeons are trained to operate on the spinal cord itself. That means you need a neurosurgeon to treat things like spinal tumors, arachnoid cysts, and Chiari malformations.

If you are in a car accident and the emergency doctor believes your spinal cord may be injured. Large hospitals like UPMC have neurosurgeons on call 24/7 to ensure that spinal cord injuries are assessed and treated promptly with cutting edge protocols.

Neurosurgeons expect to work in close partnership with other members of your medical team to solve even the most challenging medical problems. Learn more about the expert neurosurgeons at UPMC by visiting the UPMC Neurological Institute webpage.

For patients in Central Pa., please visit our website to find a location near you.

American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Neurosurgical Conditions and Treatments. American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

When do you need a neurosurgeon? Neurosurgical Associates, P.C.

What Is a Neurosurgeon? Spine Universe.

Neurosurgeon or Orthopedic Surgeon? Does it Matter? Spine Universe.

Neurologist vs. Neurosurgeon: Which Should I See? Neurosurgeons of NJ.

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year, making our team one of the most experienced in the world. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. Find an expert near you.