Spinal fusion was first performed in the early 1900s. Today, this commonly performed procedure can be done on all parts of the spine, including the seven bones that make up the cervical spine—better known as the neck. If cervical fusion has been recommended for you, here’s what you should ask when you have a pre-surgery discussion with the doctor who made the suggestion.
Are There Any Non-Surgical Options Available?
Unless there’s a medical emergency or your symptoms are debilitating, surgery is usually the last option. Start off by asking your surgeon if there are any non-surgical remedies that may help you manage your neck-related pain more effectively. Patients with cervical spine discomfort sometimes benefit from conservative treatments, which may include:
- Osteopathic medicine (e.g., spinal manipulation, massage therapy, and other manual medicine therapies)
- NSAIDs, pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and other medications
- Hot and cold therapy, therapeutic exercises, and other forms of passive and active physical therapY
- Chiropractic manipulation
- Cervical traction
- Direct injections of steroid medication
What Would Likely Happen If I Don’t Have Surgery?
By asking your surgeon this question, you can get a feel for how your cervical spine problem would likely progress if you opt not to have surgery. This assessment should also be based on what you consider a good quality of life. Go by factors such as how active you normally are, the kind of work you do, and your natural tolerance for mild or moderate pain.
What Are the Likely Long-Term Effects Associated with Cervical Fusion?
Start this part of the discussion with your surgeon by asking how your neck’s range of motion will likely be affected by the type of cervical fusion being recommended for you. Typically, a fusion at a lower level within the cervical spine will have little impact on range of motion or neck flexibility. However, a fusion at a higher level could result in a noticeable reduction in range of motion. On a related note, also ask about:
- Potential risks and complications
- The typical outcome of your recommended type of neck fusion
- Your estimated recovery timeline
Why Are You Recommending This Type of Neck Fusion?
Neck fusion is often done from either the front (anterior) or back (posterior) part of the cervical spine. There are also different options for the bone graft material that will be used—your own bone tissue, a donor’s bone tissue, and artificial bone tissue are the three most common ones. Ask your doctor how he or she plans to perform your fusion and why he or she is making such recommendations. Also, consider asking these related questions:
- Why are you recommending certain bone graft materials?
- What kind of hardware will be used to maintain stability in my neck until the fusion forms?
- Would you recommend this same approach to cervical fusion for a friend or family member?
Am I a Good Candidate for Artificial Disc Replacement?
Artificial disc replacement is an alternative to fusion that involves the insertion of a synthetic disc into the space left vacant by the removal of a damaged cervical disc. If you’re concerned about losing some range of motion in your neck, ask your surgeon if you’re a good candidate for an artificial disc replacement procedure such as Mobi-C disc replacement. Los Angeles patients should ask their surgeons why they believe fusion is the better option.
What Is Your Personal Level of Experience with Cervical Fusions?
This may sound like an intrusive question, but you have a right to know how experienced your surgeon is with the type of cervical fusion procedure he or she is recommending for you. Also, ask about such things as:
- The surgeon’s personal patient success rate with cervical fusions
- How many times he or she has personally performed neck fusion surgery
- The surgical techniques he or she typically uses
If cervical fusion is right for you, take comfort in knowing that the trend with this type of surgery today is to use less invasive techniques. For instance, an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) is performed through a small 2-inch incision made in either the right or left side of the neck. Also, don’t be afraid to get a second—or even a third—opinion before you make a decision about cervical fusion. Lastly, ask if you can take notes or record your pre-surgery conversation so you can go over what was discussed when you’re more comfortable and relaxed back at home.
Whether cervical fusion offers the best chance for a positive outcome or you’re a good candidate for non-surgical treatment, make sure to consult with a trusted Los Angeles spine surgeon. Patients can rest easy knowing the spinal health experts at The Spine Institute are industry leaders in cutting-edge, innovative surgical techniques and treatments for every part of the spine. Call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.