Neurosurgeons diagnose, assess and perform surgery to treat disorders of the nervous system. They operate on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system which can involve any area of the body.

Nature of the work

Neurosurgeons may work with patients of all ages from premature babies to elderly people. Some conditions are immediately life-threatening although chronic debilitating conditions are also treated.

Neurosurgery is a very challenging surgical specialty where techniques and technologies are constantly developing. Minimally-invasive procedures using surgical microscopes and endoscopes are increasingly used which achieve comparable or better results than open surgery. The benefits to the patient include less pain, faster recover time and minimal scarring.

Here are some examples of the main types of conditions that neurosurgeons treat:

Common procedures/interventions

Neurosurgeons also use highly advanced imaging procedures, for example to look at the function of the brain around a tumour. This helps the surgeon to examine the tumour’s boundaries and to see if it is actively dividing. Neurosurgeons work very closely with radiologists and use a range of diagnostic tools including CT and MRI scans and other techniques such as brain angiography.

Sub-specialties

The main sub-specialties of neurosurgery are:

  • Tumours of the brain, spine and skull
  • Trauma to the head and spinal cord
  • Degenerative spinal conditions and prolapsed discs
  • Cerebral (brain) aneurysms and strokes
  • Epilepsy
  • Infections
  • Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Certain psychiatric disorders
  • Congenital conditions such as spina bifida
  • Conditions that affect cerebro-spinal fluid flow such as hydrocephalus
  • Pituitary tumours and neuroendocrine disorders
  • Craniotomy – surgical microscopes are used to help the surgeon make narrow openings that minimise damage to other brain tissue for the removal of tumours
  • Neuroendoscopy – using specialised endoscopes with high resolution video cameras to treat deep-seated tumours in the brain and skull base. The tumour can be removed with a minimally invasive approach
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery – this is a form of non-invasive treatment for tumours that focuses radiation on a part of the brain
  • Paediatric neurosurgery – includes facial anomalies, congenital spine defects and tumours
  • Neuro-oncology – the management of brain and spinal tumours
  • Functional neurosurgery – the management of a range of conditions including epilepsy, movement disorders and cerebral palsy
  • Neurovascular surgery – including complex aneurysms and abnormal or narrowed blood vessels
  • Traumatology – to treat head injury
  • Skull-base surgery – disorders of the skull-base and skull-base tumours
  • Spinal surgery – often for elderly patients