Back surgery – Neurosurgeon or Orthopedic Surgeon? Does it Matter?

If your back pain is chronic then chances are good you’ve tried all manner of conservative back pain remedies, stuff like resting, medication, heat or cold therapy, physical therapy, visits to the chiropractor and even cortiscosteroid injections. If the back pain persists it may be time to consider a more invasive approach.

Your primary care physician can help you find the right Neurosurgeon for your procedure. Here are some questions you should ask your surgeon well before your surgery date:

1) Are there alternatives to surgery? You may think you’ve tried them all, but your neurosurgeon could have suggestions beyond what you’ve attempted thus far. Further, he’s seen your type of pain a great deal and may know just the conservative remedy for you.

2) What are the risks of this surgery? It’s important that you know all the long and short term risks that accompany your potential surgery. This is a tough question to ask but it will help you to weigh your decision and it’s better to know the risks up front.

3) What are the benefits of this surgery? This may sound like an obvious question, but it will help you make sure that the surgeon knows exactly what pain you’re having and that he’s discussing the operation that’s best for you. Further, there might be some benefits of the surgery that you don’t really need. Talk this one all the way through and help diagnose yourself fully.

4) What will happen if I don’t have this surgery? There might be more factors than your continued back pain. If so, you should know these factors before making your final back surgery decision.

5) Where can I go for a second opinion? This may seem like an odd question, but it’s a great test of your neurosurgeon’s mettle. If he’s quick to rattle off second opinion options then it’s clear that he’s confident in his diagnosis. His confidence should NOT be your only deciding factor. Even if you really like your doctor it’s imperative that you get that second opinion. You’ll have your back for the rest of your life so make sure you’re getting it the best care possible.

6) How long can I expect to be in the hospital? The answer to this question gives you an idea of how invasive the procedure really is, plus it will give you an idea of how to plan for other aspects of your life such as work and family responsibilities.

7) How long will it take me to recover? Full recovery from the surgery could potentially take longer than your stay in the hospital. Talk this one through with your surgeon to get a good idea of the full extent of recovery, and even some things you could do to speed recovery.

8) What if I still have back pain after surgery? Be sure to ask this question of any and all neurosurgeons you see prior to surgery – it’s vital that you have a road map of the potential lengths you have to go through to achieve relief from your pain. Ideally, should pain persist, you’ll be able to relieve it using more conservative methods.

9) When can I resume normal activities? This question should give you the final analysis on how long you’ll be out of commission due to the surgery. Be sure to have a list handy of all the activities that are important to you and go down the list with your neurosurgeon to see if there are any special cases that may have longer or shorter wait times.

10) What is your experience with this surgery? Make sure you get at both angles of this question… You’re asking not only how many times your surgeon has performed the operation, but how well the operation has achieved its goals over time. Take your time with this question and get a thorough answer. You could also consider looking up your doctor’s online profiles to check his experience. Mine are here: Dr Steven Gelbard (from and here Dr Steven Gelbard (HealthGrades).

So there you have it, the top ten questions to ask your neurosurgeon before surgery. I also suggest that you ask him about costs, and what items or people you should bring with you to the hospital on the day of your surgery.