Orthopedic spine surgeons are specially trained to treat disorders and injuries of the spine, one of the most complex structures in the human body as it contains the spinal cord.

Watch an Overview of Orthopedic Spine Surgery

About Orthopedic Spine Surgery

Orthopedic spine surgery is a subspecialty of orthopedic surgery that provides surgical treatment for disorders or injuries of the spine and related structures. However in some cases, orthopedic spine surgeons may be capable of providing both non-surgical and surgical treatment procedures. Because the spine affects the entire body, orthopedic spine surgeons often work in conjunction with a multidisciplinary medical team, which may include oncologists, neurologists, physical medicine doctors, internists, radiologists and other surgeons, among other specialists and health care providers.

Orthopedic spine surgeons are highly trained physicians that are capable of diagnosing and treating a wide array of injuries and disorders affecting the spine and related structures. These surgeons are capable of treating spinal nerve complications, degenerative disorders, growths and tumors, injuries resulting from trauma, congenital disorders and herniated discs, among many others. When providing care, spine surgeons may perform lumbar disc replacement surgery, lumbar decompression, laminectomy and microdiscectomy procedures and spinal fusion to treat scoliosis, among other procedures.

The surgical techniques utilized by a spine surgeon will depend upon the patient’s specific diagnosis and medical situation, in addition to the skill, knowledge and experience of the surgeon. For example, if a patient requires open back surgery, or traditional spine surgery, the surgeon must make a five to six inch incision in the patient’s back and move tissue and muscle away from the spine in order to begin the procedure. On the other hand, advances in spinal surgeon have allowed for the emergence of more minimally-invasive procedures that require smaller incisions, as well as less manipulation and movement of the muscles and tissues of the back. The size of the incision and the amount of manipulated muscle/tissue during the operation is directly correlated to the patient’s recovery time and post-operative pain, which can be very lengthy and painful.

Orthopedic Spine Surgery Education & Training

The training to become an orthopedic spine surgeon is similar to that of a general orthopedic surgeon, but requires additional training that will provide the knowledge and expertise to carry out highly advanced procedures on the spine. The educational path of an orthopedic spine surgeon begins with the completion of a bachelor's degree before attending medical school. After graduating with an MD or DO degree, the physician must enter into a residency program in orthopedic surgery.

During an orthopedic surgery residency, physicians are trained in the various facets and areas of orthopedic surgery and treatment of the musculoskeletal system, including pre- and post-operative care. These include clinical rotations in areas such as hand surgery, adult reconstruction, sports medicine, foot and ankle surgery, spine surgery, pediatric orthopedics and oncology, among other areas. The resident will also have the opportunity to conduct research in an area of orthopedics; in this case, it will usually pertain to spine conditions or surgery.

After completing the orthopedic surgery residency, the physician must complete a one year, highly specialized fellowship in spine surgery. During the fellowship, the surgeon gains comprehensive training in the treatment of spinal complications and will be able to provide a wide variety of surgical treatments, including spinal fusion and minimally-invasive spine surgery. Many orthopedic spine surgeons complete board certification requirements in the primary specialty of orthopedics and the subspecialty of spine surgery from the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.