Watkins Medical Centre
Level 8, 225 Wickham Terrace,
Spring Hill QLD, 4000

All appointments
Phone: (07) 3831 7034

What is an Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon ?


There are two types of specialists who can operate on the spine (neck, mid back, lower back). An orthopaedic surgeon is a surgeon who has substantial training in the mechanical side of the body - bones/muscles/joints/tendons/nerves. Orthopaedic surgeons have an in depth knowledge of the mechanics of physical function. Orthopaedic surgeons also train in peripheral nerve surgery (surgery of the nerves in the limbs). After completing orthoapedic training most surgeons are capable of performing relatively simple spine surgery (decompressive srugery of spinal cord or nerves), though have a good theoretical understanding of the spine.

Neurosurgeons train to operate on the brain and the spine with emphasis on the nerve structures (spinal cord and spinal nerves). After completing neurosurgical training most surgeons have significant experience with simple decompressive operations on the spinal nerves and the spinal cord.

In order to do complex spine surgery both orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons need special training in spinal surgery after they qualify as a specialist. This is usually done by a post graduate 'fellowship' in spine surgery (usually lasting at least 12 months to 2 years). The important thing is that you see someone (either orthopaedic or neurosurgical) who has had this special training. In general both can help you and after fellowship training in spinal surgery there is very little difference in the abilities of each. It would still be normal for the more mechanical problems to be dealt with by orthopaedic spine surgeons (such as scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, fractures, spinal column tumours) and the more advanced nerve surgery to be performed by a neurosurgeon ( spinal cord tumours, spinal cord malformations) however there is considerable overlap. Decompressive surgery (lumbar discectomy, cervical discectomy and fusion, foraminotomy and lamminectomy) can be performed equally well by orthopaedic spine surgeons and neurosurgeons.

Most orthoapedic spine surgeons in Australia specialise only in spinal surgery and this is all they do, whereas most neurosurgeons in Australia continue to operate on the brain and do part time spine surgery. There are exceptions to this.

If you are deciding what surgeon to choose for your spinal problem you might consider asking the following questions:


  • Does the surgeon only do spine surgery (a full time spine surgeon) or does the surgeon combine practicing in       spinal surgery with other types of surgery such as general orthpaedic surgery or neurosurgery?
  • Has the surgeon had special post fellowship training in spine surgery ?