Back pain patients in San Jose meet a wide array of doctors as they progress from mild discomfort to severe pain that requires surgery: general practitioners and family doctors, chiropractors and pain management specialists, and eventually a spine surgeon. When we say “spine surgeon”, however, we could be talking about two primary types of surgeons, each with different levels of training.

A spine surgeon is a doctor who has particular training, expertise, and skills in dealing with a vast array of spinal conditions. A spine surgeon is either a Neurosurgeon or an Orthopedic surgeon.

Neurosurgeon or Orthopedic Surgeon?

A neurosurgeon is a doctor who deals with medical conditions affecting the brain, spine and nerves. An orthopedic surgeon is one who deals with medical conditions affecting the joints. Every neurosurgeon who completes a post-graduate residency training program, ranging from 7-8 years, will be exposed to spine related problems throughout their training. The spine is a major conduit for the neurosurgical pathways in your body and the neurosurgeon must understand the impact from spinal conditions upon the spinal cord by spinal defects, trauma, or degenerative conditions.

An orthopedic surgeon is primarily trained on joints and their issues over their 5 years of post-graduate residency training, and has to obtain additional training in spine in the form of a fellowship upon finishing their residency training.

A neurosurgeon who wishes to achieve further technical skills with complex spinal surgeries can also completed a fellowship in spine. The main difference between the two specialties when it comes to spine is that a neurosurgeon does not need to complete a fellowship to perform spine surgeries and uses the fellowship as an extra year or two in mastering spinal reconstruction; whereas, an orthopedic surgeon’s fellowship is an introduction to spine.

Dr. Edward Rustamzadeh is a fellowship-trained neurosurgeon in San Jose, and focuses on restorative therapies for spine and brain patients.