New York Spine Institute Spine Services

Neurosurgeon vs. Neurologist — What’s the Difference?


Neurosurgeon vs. Neurologist — What’s the Difference?

By: Nicholas Post, M.D. FAANS

Nicholas Post, M.D. FAANS, a board-certified neurosurgeon has joined the NY Spine Institute medical staff. NYSI is now the only private practice on Long Island to offer true comprehensive spinal care spanning spine-specific and general orthopedics, neurosurgery, physical therapy, and pain management subspecialties for patients with acute, chronic, or debilitating orthopedic or complex spine and brain conditions.

While neurosurgeons and neurologists have special education and training in the brain and the spine, their roles differ. Continue reading for a guide on the difference between the two doctors and which you should see for treatment.

Difference Between a Neurologist and a Neurosurgeon

A neurologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats conditions of the brain and nervous system — from headaches to Alzheimer’s disease. Some neurologists specialize in degenerative disorders or chronic diseases. Overall, they can perform and order certain diagnostic tests — such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) or computer-assisted tomography — but cannot perform surgery.

Contrary to popular belief or media portrayals, a neurosurgeon does more than just brain surgery. Neurosurgeons can also treat spinal conditions, including back pain, neck pain, sciatica, degenerative disc disease and herniated discs. 

Neurosurgeons perform complex surgeries whenever needed but often opt for non-surgical treatments first. Some surgeries can even be done in a minimally invasive format for quicker recovery times.

Both doctors can work together in some circumstances. For example, a neurologist may refer a patient with a pinched nerve to a neurosurgeon for a required surgery. A neurosurgeon will take over if a physical cause is discovered or thought to be behind the condition.

Seeing a Neurologist vs. a Neurosurgeon for Back Pain

Many people tend to see a neurologist when dealing with back pain because they fear a neurosurgeon will only offer surgery as the only treatment option. This isn’t always the case — neurosurgeons only perform surgery if immediately necessary or as a last resort.

Neurosurgeons can offer non-surgical treatments or minimally invasive surgical options for a shorter recovery period. Consult a neurosurgeon if:

  • Pain persists: If you have experienced back pain for over three to four weeks, it could be considered chronic at this point. The sooner you see a neurosurgeon, the earlier you can start treatment and begin healing.
  • Conservative treatments were unsuccessful: Maybe your primary doctor tried some non-surgical treatments, but they haven’t stopped the pain. A neurosurgeon spine specialist can give you a thorough evaluation to get to the bottom of your condition and assess if spine surgery is needed.
  • Trauma preceded the pain: If you have previously gotten into a car accident, slipped and fell or otherwise hit your head, back or neck with force, see a neurosurgeon immediately. They can run tests to identify the cause of your back pain and potentially rule out any serious injuries.
  • Urgent symptoms are present: There are obvious symptoms that relate to a spinal condition, like a sharp pain in your back with movement. Spinal conditions can also cause urgent symptoms such as difficulty controlling your bladder and feeling weak in your legs. 

Contact New York Spine Institute for a World-Class Neurosurgeon

At New York Spine Institute, our world-class neurosurgeon Dr. Nicholas Post offers comprehensive spinal care for patients with spine or brain complications ranging from acute to debilitating.

NYSI is the sole independent spine and neurosurgical practice in Long Island offering comprehensive spinal care that includes multiple subspecialties. Schedule your consultation with us and get on the road to recovery today.