Many people are filled with anxiety at the thought of having an operation. If that operation involves their spine or brain, the stakes are that much higher. As a result, seeking the opinion of a neurosurgeon is often avoided, because of the fear that this will lead them towards having a complex and dangerous operation.
While it is true that most surgeons spend half of their work week operating, the reality is that surgery is only a part of what surgeons do.
By definition, neurosurgeons are specialists trained in the treatment of conditions of the neurological system that may, or may not, require surgery. A large amount of training is spent teaching and understanding how to effectively employ the alternative and non operative management options for these conditions.
This means that when you book an appointment to see a neurosurgeon you are far from guaranteed to be heading to the operating room, and there are many steps before this may happen, if it does at all.
Reassuringly what will happen is that you will receive a specialist opinion on what the likely cause of your symptoms is. Your specialist will be trained and experienced at performing a neurological examination. This will help them to determine what the likely diagnosis is, and often you are then sent for further tests to confirm the diagnosis.
This means that you will see your specialist several times and get to know them before any decisions are made, and that you are a part of, and included in, the process at every stage. The final decision to proceed to surgery will never be taken lightly and as the patient, it is you who will always be the one who has the final say.
Once a clear cause for your symptoms has been established, your specialist will then be able to guide you through the treatment options available. For most conditions there are non-surgical alternatives that can be explored.
Your general practitioner, physiotherapist or chiropractor may have already advised you of some of these alternatives. Your specialist will understand and be able to inform you about the latest evidence for the alternatives to invasive treatment.
In general, about one out of every ten patients who see a neurosurgeon will eventually need surgery. If you should need surgery, you can be confident that all the alternatives have been explored and that this is the best course of action for you at this time.
Your surgeon will then be able to explain to you the surgical treatment options that are available for you.
Not all operations are a good fit for everyone, and usually for very specific reasons a tailor-made surgical solution will be designed for you.
Your surgeon will help you to be as prepared as possible for your surgery. If you understand the reasons why surgery has been recommended for you, and know what to expect, you will be in the best position to recover well from the procedure.