5 Things about neurosurgery that may surprise you

August 26, 2022

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Kamal K. Kalia, MD Kamal K. Kalia, MD View Profile
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When most people hear the word ‘neurosurgery,’ they immediately think ‘brain surgery.’ But the truth about neurosurgery is this: it isn’t just brain surgery.

Here we share 5 things you may be surprised to learn about neurosurgery.

1. Neurosurgery isn’t always brain surgery

As Dr. Kamal Kalia, a neurosurgeon at Baystate Neurosurgery explains, “Neurosurgery is the medical specialty concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, and surgical treatment of patients with injury to, or disorders that affect any portion of the nervous system. While we often operate on the brain, we also address any issue related to the nervous system which extends throughout the body. We operate on the full length of the spinal cord and spinal column as well as on extremities where nerves are impacted such as in the case of carpal tunnel syndrome.”

2. There’s more to neurosurgery than just brain tumors

Because neurosurgery addresses issues affecting the entire nervous system, it’s an option for numerous conditions. In addition to tumors, neurosurgery is used for diseases and conditions including trigeminal neuralgia, moment disorders, and spine issues like spinal stenosis, back and leg pain, sciatica, and herniated discs. Here at Baystate Health, we also provide care for traumatic brain and spine injuries.

3. Neurosurgeons don’t just operate

While extremely skilled at surgery, neurosurgeons do more than operate.

“Because of our extensive training and experience treating diseases and conditions of the nervous system, other specialists often refer their patients to neurosurgeons to assist with diagnoses,” says Dr. Kalia.

Through a review of a patient’s symptoms and medical history, a neurological exam, and diagnostic imaging, neurosurgeons can determine what’s going on and determine the best treatment option.

“While surgery may be a viable treatment option, it’s not always the best first-option,” says Dr. Kalia. “Non-invasive treatment options that can often provide the needed relief include medication, physical therapy, pain-blocking injections, bracing, massage, pain management, and chiropractic care.” 

4. Not all brain tumors require opening the skull

Thanks to advancements in imaging and surgical technology, some brain tumors can be removed using an endoscopic endonasal surgery (EES).

Dr. Kalia explains, “With EES, the brain is accessed through the nose and sinuses. A specially designed endoscope provides light and a lens for viewing what’s going on internally and we’re able to remove tumors and lesions—even quite large ones. It’s a much less invasive procedure than traditional surgical approaches that required large incisions and removing significant piece of skull.”

5. Not every hospital has a neurosurgeon

While there are 5,700 hospitals in the United States, there are only 3,500 board-certified neurosurgeons.

Dr. Kalia says explains, “To become a neurosurgeon you first need four years of college, followed by four years of medical school, then a 7-year residency, plus a subspecialty training for 1 to 2 years. Then you must apply to become Board Certified. It’s a long process.”

Dr. Kalia continues: “Baystate Health—and all of western Massachusetts, really—is fortunate to have five neurosurgeons on staff at our region’s only level 1 trauma center. Our doctors not only care for patients, they also serve as faculty members at University of Massachusetts Medical School - Baystate, teaching the next generation of doctors.

Learn more

At Baystate Health, our neurosurgery team performs more than 1,200 neurosurgical procedures per year. Learn more about neurosurgery at Baystate Health.

This is Neurosurgery

Dr. Kamal Kalia discusses what neurosurgeons do and the common issues they treat.

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