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Information for Neuro-Spinal Patients

Information for Neuro-Spinal Patients

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Patients with neurological illnesses, injuries, defects, or disorders are often unsure what to do about their chronic pain. Central nervous system issues can be very difficult to diagnose and effectively treat. Unfortunately, many of these conditions are incurable, but neurologists and other specialists can help you better understand, cope with, and manage your symptoms. Since the neurological issues are complex, they often require nuanced, multipronged treatment to properly handle. Below, we provide the basic information patients should know before seeing a neurologist or pursuing neuro-spinal treatment.

Neuro-Spinal Treatment Safety Data

Neurological conditions can be debilitating or even life threatening, so it is important to seek appropriate treatment if you believe you may suffer from a central nervous system disorder. In particular, you should contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Spontaneous loss of coordination or changes in mobility
  • Paralysis or numbness in any area of your body, especially if this is prolonged
  • Rapid changes in eyesight or hearing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Traumatic injury to the head or spinal cord
  • Memory problems, disorientation, or other symptoms of dementia
  • Impairment in motor and cognitive function
  • Abnormalities in the shape, texture, or size of your skull or spine, especially if these develop rapidly
  • Tremors, seizures, or convulsions
  • Rapid onset of bladder or bowel malfunction
  • Chronic migraines
  • Stroke
  • Severe fatigue
  • Abrupt difficulty performing daily tasks such as reading, writing, or walking

In many cases, early intervention by a qualified doctor or surgeon can slow the progression of neurological disease, helping you maintain your quality of life, mobility, and bodily function.

Neurological treatment can be extremely helpful or even lifesaving, but it can lead to side effects or complications. Diagnostic imaging techniques that involve x-rays or radioactive formulas can cause potentially harmful radiation exposure, although the doses are typically low enough that this is not a major safety hazard. Oral medications for neuropathy may cause a variety of unpleasant and unhealthy side effects, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, swelling, bleeding, weight changes, and ocular issues, among other symptoms. Painkillers or stronger narcotics can also lead to dependence. Injectable treatments for neurological conditions can cause many of the same side effects as oral drugs. In addition, treatments like cortisone shots may actually lead to further degeneration of joints if administered too frequently. Physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, orthotic devices, and other minimally invasive remedies can be very helpful and produce little to no side effects. Many doctors suggest these therapies as the first course of treatment to help keep patients safe while correcting their condition.

Improperly performed neurosurgery or unforeseen medical circumstances could lead to even worse damage to your nerves, spinal cord, bones, or brain tissue.

Neurosurgery can be instrumental in correcting disorders, abnormalities, or other issues in the brain, spinal cord, and surrounding tissues, but these procedures carry certain risks. The central nervous system is a fragile and nuanced network of tissues, so it must be altered with extreme care and caution. Improperly performed neurosurgery or unforeseen medical circumstances could lead to even worse damage to your nerves, spinal cord, bones, or brain tissue, potentially causing further discomfort and disability. For this reason, it is very important to work with a licensed, qualified surgeon who has experience with the specific neurological procedure you require. Your neurosurgeon should be very clear about the risks involved in your procedure so you can make an informed decision about your treatment.

Before your neurological treatment, you will most likely need to sign a consent form. To maintain your safety, make sure that you fully understand the mechanics and possible complications of your treatment before you sign this contract. You can also improve your safety during neurological treatment by adhering to your doctor's guidelines.

Neuro-Spinal Treatment Statistics

Each patient's neuro-spinal treatment is distinctive, so your experience may not be the same as another person's. However, the following general statistics may help you better understand neurological treatment:

  • Over 600: the number of different neurological diseases and disorders. Unfortunately, there are a variety of ways the central nervous system can malfunction.
  • 16 percent: the proportion of people who suffer from a neurological condition.
  • 80 percent: the proportion of the three highest disability classes caused by neurological problems, according to the American Academy of Neurology.  
  • 23 percent: the decrease in risk of one-year mortality for stroke patients who underwent neurological care, as reported by the American Academy of Neurology.

Each neurological condition has its own statistical information in regard to prevalence, risk factors, and treatment success. If you've been diagnosed with one of these disorders, ask your doctor to provide you with this data so that you can better comprehend your condition.

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Choosing a Neurosurgeon

Your neurosurgeon will guide you through every step of your treatment so that you can reclaim your bodily function and quality of life. If you require neurological treatment, it is very important to find an accredited, experienced surgeon you can feel comfortable with and trust.

When looking for a potential neurosurgeon, it is important to due proper research. You can learn more about local doctors and find possible surgeons in your area by:

  • Asking your primary care physician or another medical practitioner for a referral. These doctors understand your medical history and may have collaborated with neurosurgeons in the past, so they could be a wealth of useful information for your neurological condition.
  • Talking to friends, family members, neighbors, or colleagues. Given that one in six people suffers from a neurological condition, one or more of these people may have seen a neurosurgeon. In addition to giving you suggestions for treatment and telling you more about their experiences, they may be able to recommend a capable, trustworthy doctor. Most people feel more comfortable seeing a practitioner who has delivered positive results for others.
  • Looking at online review sites. Platforms like HealthGrades, YellowPages, and Yelp allow past and current patients to rank businesses and write reviews of doctors. Checking the practice's overall star-rating and reading patients' commentary can help you determine if you might like to work with a prospective neurosurgeon.
  • Checking search engine results. Looking up keywords such as "Best Neurology Practices" on Google, Bing, or Yahoo can bring up practice websites, where you can learn more about a neurosurgeon's experience and services.
  • Finding licensed, board-certified neurosurgeons in your area through professional neurological organizations. For example, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons hosts a database to help patients find doctors according to their zip code and specialty.     

Once you've narrowed down a list of prospective neurologists, you should conduct an in-person or phone interview with these doctors. This allows you to gather important information so you can make your final choice. You should ask your potential surgeon the following questions to learn more about his or her experience and expertise:

  • Where did you attend medical school and complete your neurosurgery residency? Neurosurgeons must spend 14 years training in this field in order to practice. Learning more about this important segment of your doctor's education and early career can help you make your decision.  
  • Are you a licensed and board certified neurosurgeon? This is an obvious but important question.
  • Are you a fellow or member of any neurosurgical or neurological professional societies or organizations? While not necessary to practice, being involved with professional groups indicates that a doctor is committed to continuing education and excellent service.
  • How many years have you been in practice? Many patients feel more comfortable working with neurosurgeons who have many years of experience.
  • What is your surgical specialty? Neurosurgery is a broad and complex field, so most surgeons have a specialty. Ideally, your doctor's area of expertise will align with your needs. For example, if you suffer from a spinal condition, you may not want to work with a neurosurgeon who specializes in brain disorders.
  • What types of diagnostic testing do you use to plan surgeries? Your neurosurgeon should use at least one form of imaging, as well as other diagnostic procedures, to identify the cause of your symptoms and plan your surgery accordingly.
  • Which procedures do you perform? If you believe you will need a certain type of surgery or even a specific procedure, it is important that your prospective surgeon actually offers this service.
  • Do you offer any non-surgical alternative treatments? Based on the results of your diagnostic testing and your own preferences, non-surgical treatment may be more appropriate to your needs. Working with a neurosurgeon who offers these services gives you a wider range of options so you can choose the treatment or therapy that best fits your unique needs and preferences.
  • Where is your office? This will help you determine if a possible neurosurgeon may be convenient to your home. In addition, this allows you to find out if your prospective doctor operates out of a private practice, rents space in a medical complex, or has privileges at a local hospital.
  • What is the average cost of surgery at your office? Obviously, treatment costs vary widely from patient to patient, but getting an estimate for the expense of treatment can help you plan. However, cost should not be the primary factor when choosing a neurosurgeon.
  • Does your practice take my insurance? Since neurological conditions are potentially life threatening medical conditions, health insurance providers typically pay for at least a portion of the cost of neurosurgery. If you wish to apply your coverage to your procedure, you will need to work with a clinic that accepts your insurance.
  • Do you offer financing? If you do not have insurance or your provider will not cover the entire cost of your surgery, financing can help you afford your procedure. Some clinics offer in-house financing, while others may work with outside lenders.
  • What is your average success rate? Neurosurgery is complicated, so it might be unrealistic to expect a 100 percent success rate. However, the higher, the better.
  • What do you do for patients who suffer from surgical side effects, complications, or unfavorable outcomes? Even when performed correctly, neurosurgery can lead to complications or be unsuccessful. Your prospective neurosurgeon should have a plan in place for this eventuality. For example, some practitioners may work with other specialists or offer revisional procedures at no cost.
  • Can I speak with any of your previous patients or read testimonials? Learning about other patients' experiences can help you choose your neurosurgeon. While the materials provided directly by the doctor are likely to be biased in his or her favor, they can still be very useful and informative.

Getting the answers to these questions should give you enough data to pick a neurosurgeon who suits your needs. In addition, this interview gives you an opportunity to determine how comfortable you feel speaking with your potential doctor and find out if your personalities mesh well.

RELATED: Find a qualified neuro-spinal surgeon in your area

The Initial Consultation

Once you've chosen a neurosurgeon, you will schedule your initial consultation. At this first appointment, you will meet with your doctor for about an hour. You should make sure to bring your insurance paperwork, medical records, and a list of the vitamins, supplements, and medications you regularly take. It may also be helpful to note down your questions and concerns ahead of time so that you can ask your neurosurgeon about them without forgetting any.

During your initial consultation, your neurosurgeon will most likely:

  • Conduct an examination of your skull and spine. He or she may also test your sensory and motor function at this time.
  • Perform diagnostic testing. An fMRI, CT scan, or other imaging technique can allow your doctor to gather more information about your condition and plan your procedure with greater precision. He or she may also perform an evoked response assessment, order laboratory testing, or schedule a biopsy, depending on your circumstances.
  • Discuss your symptoms and concerns with you. It is important to be as open as possible about your anxieties regarding your surgery so that your doctor can address them.  
  • Explain which surgical technique he or she recommends and why. This is a good time to ask about non-surgical alternatives or pose any other questions you may have. Your neurosurgeon should also discuss the potential side effects and complications of your procedure in detail with you, as well as describe what he or she does to minimize these risks. Your doctor should also explain which therapies or treatment he or she would prescribe in conjunction with your surgery.

If you approve of the surgical plan, you may end your initial consultation by scheduling a pre-operative appointment or even the surgery itself.

Preparing for Surgery

You can help optimize your chances for a successful procedure by taking certain steps to prepare yourself for neurosurgery. Your doctor will provide detailed pre-operative instructions to you, but in general, you should:

  • Make sure to get plenty of sleep. Staying rested will help your body get ready for surgery, and it may be more difficult for you to sleep after your procedure, so you should do so while you can.
  • Eat a healthy diet and get exercise. Maintaining your overall wellbeing can improve your chances for a successful surgery.
  • Stop taking certain medications, supplements, and vitamins. Certain substances can increase your risk for excessive bleeding.
  • See your primary care physician or an internal medicine specialist to ensure that you are cleared for neurosurgery. Brain and spinal cord operations are serious procedures, so undergoing a comprehensive physical exam and addressing any potential issues is warranted.
  • Arrange to have an appropriate amount of time off of work and ask a friend or family member to care for once you return home following your procedure. You may need help walking, making food, or caring for your household following your surgery, and it is important not to strain yourself.  
  • Not drink or eat anything for at least 12 hours before your surgery. Doing so can interfere with anesthesia and cause dangerous complications.
  • Avoid drinking heavily or smoking. Both of these habits can increase your risk for side effects and complications. Your neurosurgeon may require you to stop these activities entirely for a prescribed period of time before and after your procedure.

Recovering from Surgery

Depending on the extent of your procedure, you may remain in the hospital for several nights or more following your surgery so that doctors and nurses can carefully monitor you as you recover. If you undergo a less invasive procedure, you may be able to return home on the day of your treatment, but you should ask for assistance from a friend or family member and make sure to get plenty of rest so that you can heal efficiently and successfully. Your neurosurgeon should brief your spouse, friends, family member, or other caretakers on your post-operative instructions so that they can help you recover well.

The recovery time for neurosurgery varies widely, based on the techniques used, the location of your procedure, and your medical history. It may take several weeks or more than six months for you to fully recuperate and return to regular activity. In the weeks and months following your procedure, you will most likely return to your neurosurgeon's office regularly so that he or she can monitor your healing. Your doctor may use imaging tools to get a more detailed picture of your recovery during this process.

Your neurosurgeon will most likely recommend rehabilitative therapy to help restore your mobility and cognitive function after your procedure.

Your neurosurgeon will most likely recommend rehabilitative therapy to help restore your mobility and cognitive function after your procedure. This could include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, non-surgical treatments such as TENS to help manage pain, or other techniques. Your doctor may also recommend that you wear a brace, splint, or other orthotic appliance to hold your body in place while it heals. Your neurosurgeon will most likely work with a physiatrist, your primary care physician, and other specialists to create your post-operative treatment plan.

If you notice any troubling, persistent, or uncomfortable symptoms during your recovery, do not hesitate to contact your neurosurgeon for advice and assistance.

Neuro-Spinal Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below, we've compiled some of the most frequently asked questions related to neuro-spinal treatment, as well as their answers.

Isn't neurosurgery just brain surgery? Why is the spine involved? This is a common misconception, but neurology involves understanding, diagnosing, and treating the entire central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, muscles, and nerves. Neurosurgery refers to procedures that treat any component of the central nervous system. This includes, but is not limited to, brain surgery. Neurosurgery often involves the spine since the spinal cord allows the brain to communicate with the rest of the body.

What is the difference between a neurologist and orthopedist? Both neurologists and orthopedists treat the spine, but orthopedists specialize in the body's musculoskeletal system, while neurologists focus on the spine as it relates to the central nervous system. Neurosurgeons also typically go through one more year of residency training than orthopedists.

Why do I have to go to physical therapy? Isn't surgery enough? In many cases, a neurosurgical procedure will not completely resolve your disease or disorder. In fact, many of these conditions are chronic and incurable, meaning they will always need to be managed. Physical therapy provides the daily strengthening, exercises, and activity you need to preserve and build upon the results of your procedure.

When can I have sex after neuro-spinal treatment? Many patients have this question but are afraid to ask it. The short answer is that you can have sex when this activity will not interfere with the results of your procedure. If sex is at all painful or uncomfortable, it may not be safe for you. If you are unsure, you can ask your neurosurgeon at one of your follow-up appointments. In general, it's a good idea to get your doctor's approval for any activities that could strain your central nervous system after undergoing neurosurgery.

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