What conditions may require neurosurgery?

Published: Monday, June 17, 2024

If you heard that someone you know needs neurosurgery, you may immediately think about treatment for a life-threatening medical condition such as stroke. While surgical procedures for such emergency conditions are part of neurosurgery, the specialty also treats less-serious conditions.

In fact, neurosurgery is used for the surgical treatment of many different medical conditions related to the nervous system, including the spine, brain and nerves. Keep reading to learn more.

Defining neurosurgery

Neurology is the field of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord and nerves. Conditions of the nervous system can manifest throughout the body, causing a variety of symptoms. 

Neurosurgery, then, is the surgical component of neurology—offering surgical treatment options for nervous system-related conditions. In addition to surgical procedures, neurosurgeons may also offer nonoperative therapies.

That means that a neurosurgeon may first offer conservative treatment options such as medication or physical therapy to treat a condition before recommending surgery. 

Conditions treated by neurosurgery

There are two different parts of the nervous system. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system includes nerves that branch off the spinal cord and extend throughout the body. Those nerves can cause pain and other symptoms in parts of the body far from the spine or brain.

Because the nervous system is far-reaching, the field of neurosurgery is as well. Neurosurgery may be used to treat a variety of conditions, including:

Back and neck pain. Chronic neck or back pain can be related to conditions such as pinched nerves or herniated discs. The specific type of surgery required will depend on the source of the back or neck pain. 

Brain/spinal cord tumors. Tumors can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous), with each causing bothersome and disruptive symptoms. As tumors grow larger, they can interfere with the normal function of the brain or the spinal cord, making removal a necessity. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome causes a variety of uncomfortable symptoms in the hands and arms, including weakness in the hands, increased clumsiness related to grasping objects and numbness, tingling or pain in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. These symptoms occur when the median nerve in the hand is squeezed as it travels through the wrist. Neurosurgery can be used to release the nerve, alleviating the pressure and symptoms.

Degenerative disc disease. People with degenerative disc disease experience back pain caused by the vertebral discs wearing down, which can occur as they dry out during the aging process, tear during daily activities or sports, or become injured. If conservative measures such as physical therapy or injected corticosteroids don’t help, artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion may be recommended.

Glioblastomas. Glioblastomas are cancerous, fast-moving tumors that invade different parts of the brain. As the tumors enlarge, they can cause seizures, severe headaches, personality or behavior changes, muscle weakness, difficulties with coordination and memory and language problems. Neurosurgery is used to remove as much of the tumor as possible without affecting surrounding brain tissue. 

Intracerebral hemorrhage. This type of hemorrhage is often referenced as hemorrhagic stroke, which accounts for up to 30 percent of all strokes. During an intracerebral hemorrhage, a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, which floods the brain with blood and puts excess pressure on the brain tissue. Surgical treatment of intracerebral hemorrhage may include clot aspiration or a craniotomy.

Peripheral nerve damage. A condition known as peripheral neuropathy can affect nerves throughout the peripheral nervous system. Peripheral nerve damage can manifest in many different ways, depending on the part of the body affected, causing symptoms such as muscle weakness or paralysis, uncontrollable muscle movements, tingling, numbness or imbalance and even changes in blood pressure or other body functions. Neurosurgery can be used to reconnect cut or trapped nerves or to severe or remove damaged nerves. 

Vascular disorders. Vascular neurosurgery is a specific specialty of neurosurgery, and it is used to treat conditions of the brain and spinal cord that involve blood vessels. This includes life-threatening medical conditions such as stroke and brain aneurysm. Neurosurgery of this type involves delicate work to repair damaged blood vessels in sensitive areas of the body in order torestore proper blood flow.

Trigeminal neuralgia. This condition causes what’s been called “the most excruciating pain known to humanity.” Trigeminal neuralgia occurs when the trigeminal nerve is irritated. Because this nerve is responsible for providing sensations to the face, this can cause intense, stabbing, shock-like pain in the forehead, cheek or jaw. If anticonvulsant medications fail to provide relief, neurosurgery may be recommended. This may include microvascular decompression, which requires opening the skull, or lesioning procedures, which injure the nerve on purpose to keep it from causing pain to the face.

Neurosurgeons with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group provide expert care for the conditions identified above and others affecting the nervous system. They perform a wide spectrum of surgical procedures, including minimally invasive spine surgery, brain aneurysm repair, complex vascular bypass surgery, endoscopic and open brain tumor surgery and stereotactic radiosurgery.Minimally invasive surgery allows for a quicker recovery with less risk of complications. 

Learn more

When conditions related to the brain or spinal cord don’t respond to nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be the best path forward. Our team of board-certified neurosurgeons offers treatment options for many neurological conditions.