If your spine surgeon recommends a cervical spine fusion surgery, ask him or her these questions. Learn what to expect, and evaluate your options so you feel comfortable with whatever decision you make.
Have we exhausted nonsurgical options?
In most cases, the pain from cervical spine conditions can be managed through nonsurgical treatments, such as physical therapy and exercise, cervical traction, chiropractic manipulation, osteopathic medicine, medications, and injections.
Ask your surgeon which options you can try before deciding on surgery. It may take a few months before you find the right combination of treatments that work best.
How might my condition progress if I don’t have this fusion?
Ask your surgeon if he or she anticipates your symptoms will worsen or stay the same. Learn what the likely range of outcomes may be if you decide not to have the fusion.
Get an idea of what your quality of life might look like, and if your pain can be managed through nonsurgical treatments enough to allow you to work and enjoy hobbies.
What are the likely long-term consequences of this fusion?
Have your surgeon explain to you how much the fusion might affect your neck’s range of motion.
Typically, a fusion surgery on one of the lower levels of the cervical spine will have little impact on the neck’s overall range of motion, while a fusion involving one of the top two cervical levels might lead to a significant loss of cervical range of motion.
Ask your surgeon to list other potential risks and complications of the fusion, and to give you an estimated recovery timeline.
Why do you recommend this particular kind of fusion?
There are two types of cervical spine fusions: one performed through the front of the neck (anterior), and one performed through the back of the neck (posterior).
Different sources may be used for the bone graft during the procedure, too. These include an autograft (your own bone), an allograft (donor's bone), and a bone graft substitute (typically made out of titanium or medical-grade plastic).
Ask your surgeon what he or she advises for you—and why.
What medical devices do you recommend for this fusion and why?
If your surgeon recommends a bone graft substitute, or cage, to be used for your fusion, ask which one and why.
Consider asking if this is the same procedure your surgeon would recommend if their own family member were in your situation.
Why do you recommend a fusion instead of an artificial disc replacement?
In a cervical artificial disc replacement procedure, instead of fusing the adjacent vertebrae together (as in a fusion), an artificial disc is inserted between the vertebrae. Depending on your situation, one procedure might be more beneficial than the other.
Ask your surgeon why he or she recommends a cervical fusion surgery for you instead of an artificial disc replacement.
What is your complication rate and success rate for this surgery?
Ask your surgeon what the statistical success rate is for this type of surgery. Then ask what their personal success rate is in performing it. How many times has he or she performed this type of surgery? These questions will give you an idea of your surgeon’s experience with this procedure.
Before you visit with your surgeon, familiarize yourself with basic information about your condition, reviewing MRI reports or doctor's notes if you have access to them. Consider asking if you can record your visit or take notes home with you to review what was discussed.