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  • Writer's pictureAcme Spine & Orthopaedics

What's the Difference Between a Spine Surgeon and a Neurosurgeon?

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

There are many types of medical doctors who can provide patients with nonsurgical care for the spine, such as physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, spine doctors, and neurologists. However, when it comes to surgical care for the spine, there are two types of specialists who are trained to perform spine surgery: orthopedic spine surgeons and neurosurgeons.

Because the spine is a highly complex and critical component of the human body, it is important that patients know which type of surgeon to seek surgical treatment from when they are experiencing a spine-related injury or condition, such as neck pain, scoliosis, or spinal stenosis.

Both surgeons are highly skilled specialists with extensive medical training; however, what differs between orthopedic surgeons specializing in spine care and neurosurgeons lies in the focus of their surgical practices as well as in their training.

Orthopedic Spine Surgeons

An orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor or a doctor of osteopathic medicine that has completed a five-year residency in orthopedic surgery. This residency focuses on the treatment of the musculoskeletal system and provides the surgeon with an in-depth knowledge of the body's bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, just like a general orthopedic surgeon. Following residency, the surgeon will complete a year of fellowship training that is exclusively focused on the spine as well as spine surgery.

As orthopedic surgeons, orthopedic spine doctors concentrate primarily on repairing problems of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spinal anatomy. These surgeons spend every day assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients with spine-related injuries and conditions, including:

  • Degenerative disc diseases

  • Herniated discs

  • Kyphosis

  • Neck pain

  • Scoliosis

  • Spinal cord compression

  • Spinal deformities

  • Spinal stenosis

  • Spondylolysis

  • Spondylolisthesis

  • Vertebral fractures

In addition to providing treatment options for spinal issues, orthopedic spine surgeons also see patients for the following:

  • Fractures

  • Hip and knee arthritis

  • Musculoskeletal injuries

  • Shoulder pain


Like an orthopedic spine doctor, a neurosurgeon is also a medical doctor or a doctor of osteopathic medicine. However, their residency focuses on the treatment of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal column, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and cerebrovascular system.

Unlike an orthopedic spine doctor, a neurosurgeon's practice does not treat musculoskeletal or joint issues, and their practice is often split between brain surgery and spine surgery. Their day-to-day practice varies. One day a neurosurgeon might provide neurosurgical treatment for a patient with an aneurysm or tumor, and the next day, they might be carrying out a treatment plan for a patient with a spinal cord injury.

In addition to providing treatment options for spinal injuries, neurosurgeons often see patients for the following neurological disorders:

  • Brain aneurysm

  • Brain tumor

  • Epilepsy

  • Parkinson's disease

Why Choose Dr. Thomas of ACME Spine & Orthopedic?

A member of the most experienced spine team in the region, our fellowship-trained and board-certified Neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Thomas, has dedicated his practice to the specialized field of spine surgery with a minimally invasive approach. Having undergone extensive training to offer patients specialized spine care, our spine doctor is highly skilled in accurately diagnosing and effectively treating spinal disorders. He works with each patient individually to develop a personalized treatment plan that gets them back to a life renewed.

Our spine specialist is dedicated to using the latest evidence-based and most advanced minimally invasive techniques specifically for the back, neck, and spine. Additionally, he is an expert at performing the following surgical procedures:

  • Computer navigation minimally invasive spine procedures

  • Kyphoplasty

  • Microdiscectomy

  • Minimally invasive lumbar decompression

  • Minimally invasive surgery for the lumbar and cervical spine

  • Spinal fusion

Dr. Michael Thomas is a researcher and neurosurgeon specializing in diseases and conditions that affect the brain, spine and peripheral nerves. Dr. Thomas earned a B.A. in Biology from William Jewell College in 1987, a degree in Osteopathic Medicine from Oklahoma State University College in 1991 and completed his residency in Neurosurgery at the Long island Jewish Medical Center/Schneider’s Children's Hospital. Dr. Thomas obtained his board certification as a Neurological Surgeon in 2001 and has helped many patients find back pain relief through minimally invasive procures since then. Dr. Michael Thomas is a member of the Back Pain Centers of America network.

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