Cervical Disc vs. Fusion: What's Right For Me?

Choosing the right surgical option for cervical spine issues when it becomes your last means of treatment is a critical decision that can significantly impact your quality of life. Two of the most common procedures for addressing arm and shoulder pain, numbness, tingling weakness, and related symptoms like neck pain are cervical disc replacement and cervical fusion.

Both surgeries have advantages and considerations, and making the right choice depends on various factors, including your specific condition, lifestyle, and long-term health goals. Dr. Tim Johans, a leading neurosurgeon in Boise, offers valuable insights into both procedures to help patients navigate their options.

Dr. Johans is a Diplomat and Fellow of the American Board of Neurological Surgeons, board certified in Pain Management and is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American Board of Neurological Surgeons. He began his neurosurgical career in 1988 and has been practicing in Boise since 1993. With these credentials, you can trust that Dr. Johans has the specialized knowledge and experience to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

He is a dedicated family man who is heavily involved in his community, is involved in several hospital boards and committees and takes pride in being a faith-driven person. Dr. Johans has had a 3 level neck fusion and can discuss options from his vast personal experience.

We also work closely with other non-surgeons if necessary so that our patients can access all available resources when making decisions regarding their treatment plans. Additionally, our team is always prompt in responding to inquiries and addressing patients' concerns throughout their recovery process. Reviews on Google and Healthgrades show that many individuals who have sought treatment from Dr. Johans have found success in his treatments while feeling comfortable and supported throughout their experiences at our office.

What is Cervical Disc Replacement?

Cervical disc replacement is a modern surgical procedure designed to address damaged cervical discs while preserving motion at the disc space and neck. The procedure involves removing the damaged disc, alleviating pressure on the nerves, and inserting an artificial disc into the space. These artificial discs are made of metal or a combination of metal and medical-grade plastic, designed to mimic the natural movement of the cervical spine.

The primary benefits of cervical disc replacement include the preservation of neck motion, reduction of stress on adjacent discs, and generally shorter recovery times compared to fusion surgery. Candidates best suited for this procedure typically have single or two-level cervical disc disease and do not suffer from severe spinal cord compression or advanced arthritis.

What is Cervical Fusion?

What is Cervical Fusion?

Cervical fusion, on the other hand, aims to alleviate pain by relieving the nerves and stopping the motion at one or more disc levels in the neck. This is achieved by removing the problematic disc, freeing the nerves, and fusing the adjacent vertebrae using bone grafts or metal devices. The fusion process provides improved spinal stability and relief from nerve pain and prevents further degeneration at the site of the original injury.

While cervical fusion can offer significant benefits, it's critical to note that fusing vertebrae can sometimes lead to increased stress on the adjacent segments, potentially causing issues down the line. In 25% of spinal fusions, patients will need a secondary surgery in 10 years on surrounding vertebrae.

Dr. Johans emphasizes the importance of improved long-term outcomes, and advocating for disc replacement when possible to preserve the quality of life over time. Cervical fusion is often recommended for patients with more complex conditions, such as cervical degenerative disc disease, fractures, or instability, that cannot be adequately addressed by disc replacement.

No matter what, Dr. Johans will provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision and will present all surgical and non-surgical treatment options to ensure the best treatment plan.

Factors to Consider in Choosing the Right Cervical Disc Surgery

Factors to Consider in Choosing the Right Cervical Disc Surgery

The main goal of either surgery is to help ease the symptoms of arm or shoulder pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness (and, in some cases, neck pain) resulting from nerve impaction. Neck pain alone is not a green light for surgery, but discomfort and loss of sensation or strength in your extremities almost always will require a surgical repair.

When deciding between cervical disc replacement and fusion with Dr. Johans, several key factors need to be considered:

  • Medical Conditions: The nature and severity of your spinal issue, nerve degeneration, your overall health, and age can all influence which procedure is more suitable.
  • Lifestyle Influences: Your activity level and occupation play a role in determining the best fit. Disc replacement may offer a quicker return to normal activities and is often preferred by those leading active lifestyles.
  • Long-term Outcomes: It's crucial to consider the long-term impact of each procedure. Disc replacement can potentially reduce the risk of adjacent segment degeneration, which is beneficial for young, more active individuals.
  • Plain film and MRI results.
  • The chronicity of neck pain (less than a year vs 20 years).

Although Dr. Johans recommends disc replacements over fusion, he has been doing both for thousands of patients and will do a fusion surgery if necessary. He is dedicated to providing personalized advice, taking into account each patient's unique condition, lifestyle, and health goals. By thoroughly evaluating all aspects of a patient's situation, Dr. Johans can recommend the most appropriate treatment option, ensuring the best possible outcomes for those under his care.

Disc Replacement vs. Fusion

Contact Dr. Johans for Disc Replacement in Boise

If cervical disc replacement is a procedure you're considering, Dr. Johans is here to guide you every step of the way. His commitment is to provide personalized care that aligns with your lifestyle and health objectives.

Reach out directly at (208) 327-5621 or start your journey to recovery by completing our patient questionnaire. Together, we'll explore the best treatment options for you and your lifestyle.

Patient Questionnaire


What Are the Benefits & Risks of Lumbar Decompression Surgery?

There are two ways to decompress the nerve roots of the lumbar spine. The traditional open surgery, ...

View More

Will Surgery Cure Your Neck & Arm Pain?

For many dealing with severe neck and arm pain, surgery can seem like an overwhelming thought. Howev...

View More

When to see a Doctor

While 80% of neck pain will resolve on its own, there are some red flag indicators that it ...

View More

Get to know Dr. Johans

Being a neurosurgeon requires endless hours of continuous training, work and sacrifice. The...

View More

How Does Minuteman Surgery Offer Relief for Severe Back and Leg Pain?

Severe back and leg pain can severely impact every aspect of a person's life, from daily activit...

View More

What is the Recovery Like Between the Various Lumbar Surgical Options?

Undergoing lumbar surgery is a significant decision that can greatly improve quality of life for tho...

View More


Recent Posts