Thu | Mar 30, 2023

When do you need a neurosurgeon?

Published:Wednesday | February 15, 2023 | 12:17 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

Most people think of neurosurgery as brain surgery, but it is much more. It is the medical specialty concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of patients with injury to, or diseases and disorders of, the brain, spinal cord and spinal column, and peripheral nerves within all parts of the body.

The specialty of neurosurgical care includes both adult and paediatric patients. Depending on the nature of the injury or disease, a neurological surgeon may provide surgical and/or non-surgical care.

According to Dr Brandon Davis, neurosurgeon and neuro-interventionalist at Memorial Healthcare System, a neurosurgeon does a lot more than brain surgery.

“Neurosurgeons work with the entire nervous system that starts in your brain, runs through your spine, and branches out to all areas of your body. Often, pain that you feel is travelling through the nervous system,” Dr Davis explained.

“Neurosurgeons treat many painful conditions, such as low back pain, epilepsy, stroke, sciatica, pinched nerves and chronic pain. These conditions may manifest themselves in one place but appear in another. For example, carpal tunnel symptoms may be related to spinal disc problems in the neck,” he said.

Dr Davis was a speaker at the 21st Caribbean Neurosciences Symposium, hosted by The Caribbean Neurological Association in collaboration with the Department of Surgery, Radiology, Anesthesia, Intensive Care at The University Hospital of the West Indies. The event was held at the Half Moon Resort in Montego Bay from February 9-12.

The objective of the conference was to provide essential updates for physicians, vital instruction for residents-in-training, and the opportunity for residents-in-training to interview for electives and fellowships with visiting faculties.

Most people, Dr Davis, said think of neurosurgeons as doctors performing complex surgery. While it is true that neurosurgeons can perform complicated surgical procedures in the spine and brain, its often non-surgical or conservative care that is prescribed.

Diagnosing your condition and coming up with a treatment plan that is progressive in nature is typical with most neurosurgeons. For example, back pain may be treated medically with anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy and other non-surgical means. If your condition has progressed past these types of treatment, and if surgery is indicated, then the neurosurgeons can perform the needed surgery, Dr Davis said.

He noted that a neurosurgeon’s training is quite intense, and is the longest training period of any medical specialty. In addition to four years of medical school, they intern for a year and are a resident for five to seven years. After that, many pursue a fellowship to specialise in areas such as spine. The complexity of the nervous system and its functions require this level of knowledge and mastery of techniques and technology.

Dr Davis, who presented on the topic of ‘Operative Decisions in Cerebrovascular and Skull-Based Neurosurgery’, said surgery performed by neurosurgeons today is far more precise than in the past.

“New technologies and techniques allow neurosurgeons to perform surgery with the least invasive procedures, called minimally invasive surgery. These techniques use special instruments to create the tiniest incisions needed to access your problem area. Many neurosurgeons also use sophisticated 3D imaging technology to visualise inside your spine or brain. This adds an extra layer of safety and accuracy,” he said.

A neurosurgeon gives you an overall focus on your body’s nervous system and the conditions, whether trauma, degenerative or chronic pain that affect you. Your neurosurgeon will work with you to determine the best treatment plans for your condition to achieve the best outcomes possible for you.