Struggling with back or neck pain? Do you have sciatica or other conditions affecting nerve function? Depending on your symptoms, you may need to see a neurologist or neurosurgeon.

Both neurologists and neurosurgeons can diagnose and treat neck or back pain, sciatica, and other disorders. However, each uses a different approach. The differences between these medical disciplines are subtle but important.

So, what kind of doctor do you need? For starters, here’s what you should know about the difference between neurologists and neurosurgeons—and why it matters.

What Is a Neurologist?

About 20 million Americans have some sort of nerve damage. Nearly 40% of those over the age of 85 have moderate or severe memory problems.

Many of those living with nerve disorders reach out to neurologists. These medical doctors use their expertise to treat problems affecting the brain and nervous system, such as:

  • Sciatica
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Headaches
  • Brain tumors
  • Stroke
  • Pinched nerves
  • Multiple sclerosis

Some neurologists specialize in autonomic disorders or neurocritical care. Others focus on epilepsy, geriatric care, or neuro-oncology. Any of these clinicians may recommend imaging tests, nerve conduction studies, or other procedures to diagnose your condition.

The Role of Neurosurgeons

Neurosurgeons address many of the same problems as neurologists do, from sciatica pain to brain tumors. The difference lies in their approach to treatment and the training they receive.

Generally, you may need to see a neurosurgeon if your condition requires surgical treatment.

For example, herniated discs may not respond to conservative treatment, such as physical therapy. Over time, this condition may cause severe pain and limit your mobility. In such cases, surgery might be the only option.

Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need surgery for lower back pain, neck pain, brain disorders, and so on. The neurosurgeon will work closely with your neurologist to determine the best course of action.

Should You See a Neurologist or a Neurosurgeon?

As discussed earlier, both neurologists and neurosurgeons address brain and nervous system disorders. The difference is that neurologists don’t perform surgery. If your condition requires surgery, the neurologist will refer you to a neurosurgeon.

All in all, choosing a specialist depends on your needs. Generally, it’s best to call your primary care doctor. He will assess your symptoms and then determine whether you should see a neurosurgeon or a neurologist.

Note that both neurosurgeons and neurologists undergo similar training in medical school. The former, however, complete additional training so they can specialize in one or more types of surgery.

Find the Best Specialists for Your Needs

Now that you understand what a neurologist does and when it’s recommended to see a neurosurgeon, decide what you want to do next.

The specialists at the Howell Allen Clinic can address the most complex brain and spine conditions. Our team will take the steps needed to help you get back on your feet and feel like yourself again.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and discuss your needs.