Jefferson University Hospitals

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between spine surgeries performed by an orthopedic specialist versus a neurosurgeon?

Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons perform many of the same procedures and undergo some of the same training. However, when it comes to the spine, neurosurgeons have more extensive — and more focused — training than orthopedic surgeons receive. Because of this additional training, neurosurgeons are able to perform any type of procedure on the spine. By contrast, orthopedic surgeons do not operate on or inside the nerves of the spinal cord.

I'm not sure if I really need surgery. Will your physicians be able to help with other options?

Although our physicians are neurosurgeons, our focus is always on identifying the best possible treatment for each patient. This conservative approach means that most of our patients do not end up needing surgery at all. We routinely collaborate with our peers in other specialties throughout Jefferson and can facilitate referrals as necessary. By choosing our Spine Program, you or your loved one benefit from a single point of contact that can help you tap into a full continuum of care and capabilities.

Although I have persistent back, neck or leg pain, I still don't have a clear-cut "diagnosis." Can you help me?

Chronic pain has a negative impact on quality of life. When the source of the pain — and a resolution — cannot be identified, it is frustrating for those who suffer. We encourage you to reach out to the Jefferson Spine Program for a consultation so we can determine how we may be able to help you.

I've already visited a physician at another healthcare facility, but I'm not sure about his or her recommendation. Can the Jefferson Spine Program provide a second opinion?

Absolutely. Our Program is routinely asked to provide a second — or even third or fourth — opinion; we welcome the opportunity and appreciate the trust that our community has placed in us.

What other resources are available through Jefferson Hospital?

As a major academic medical center, Jefferson offers patients a full complement of services and expertise. The physicians of the Spine Program frequently work with traumatologists, intensivists, physiatrists, orthopedists and neurologists, as well as specialists in pain management to help our patients receive the best possible treatment.

What are the advantages of stereotactic radiosurgery or radiotherapy?

Whether used alone or as a complement to traditional surgery, stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy offer numerous benefits.

For starters, these treatments can be performed safely and effectively on patients who wouldn't be able to withstand traditional forms of brain or spinal surgery. Stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy can also treat tumors in dangerous locations, such as the optic nerve, brain stem or spinal cord. Because they're performed on an outpatient basis, these procedures offer shorter treatment time and a dramatically lower recovery period. Finally, stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy eliminate the surgical risks of infection, hemorrhage and spinal fluid leakage.

Are stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy painful?

All methods of stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy are virtually painless and are performed on an outpatient basis.

Single, high-dose radiation via the Gamma Knife requires that patient wear a special stereotactic head frame. This lightweight frame is attached to the skull using four small screws. To relieve any pain associated with securing the head frame, the area is numbed beforehand and a sedative is administered.

Patients who receive multiple doses of radiation often find that the biggest challenge is overcoming their initial anxiety. Because they're so tense during initial treatments, they sometimes report sore necks and backs. However, once they become familiar with the daily routine of their treatment - and realize that it's truly painless - they're able to relax.

Is stereotactic radiosurgery or radiotherapy suitable for all brain and spinal tumors?

Stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy are not optimal treatments for all patients. With that in mind, patients should seek an institution that offers all the alternative treatments currently available for their particular disease. And, ideally, those treatments should all be practiced by the same medical team. This eliminates treatment bias based on a narrower, "single-tool" perspective.

In addition to assessing the versatility and objectivity of a program, patients should also consider the volume of cases handled by the medical team. When physicians have a greater depth and breadth of experience, they can confidently recommend, in some cases, no treatment when they feel observation is the most appropriate management course.

What are the side effects of stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy?

For the vast majority of patients, there are virtually no side effects to stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy. However, as with any medical treatment, there are some possible side effects, including hearing loss and, to a lesser extent, cranial neuropathy and radiation necrosy. Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience's rates for these side effects are among the best in the industry.

Does hair fall out as a result of this treatment?

For the vast majority of patients, their hair does not fall out. However, some patients may experience patchy hair loss.

What are the restrictions while undergoing stereotactic radiosurgery or radiotherapy?

You will find that there are very few limitations on your day-to-day life while undergoing any of Jefferson's stereotactic radiosurgery or radiotherapy treatments. You can carry on your normal activities, including working and spending time with your family. You can even be around your children and grandchildren while undergoing treatment.

For multiple treatments, how long does each session last?

Although the actual treatment time may be as little as 20 to 30 minutes, you should allow 60 minutes each day for your appointment.