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SF-36 Not Advised for Cervical Spine Surgical Patients

A popular scale for measuring health status is a tool called the Short-Form Health Survey or SF-36. The SF-36 is a good measure of general physical and emotional health in adults. But can it be used to measure results of treatment for specific groups? In this study, researchers evaluate the use of the SF-36 with patients having cervical spine surgery.

The SF-36 measures eight categories of health and function. Bodily pain, mental and emotional health, and social and physical functioning are some of the areas tested. Studies show that the SF-36 can be used to compare patients with different diseases and problems. Results give a reliable and valid measure of the outcomes of treatment.

The survey was given to 116 patients of one neurosurgeon before and after surgery. All patients were having surgery for a diagnosis of cervical spondylotic myelopathy and radiculopathy. This means they had neck and arm pain from pressure on the spinal cord in the neck.

>From the results of this study, the authors advise caution in using the SF-36 with patients having cervical spine surgery. Many of the questions were left blank. This group either couldn’t answer the questions or the questions didn't apply.

It also appears that combining subscale scores for patients with disabling neurologic conditions alters what the survey is measuring. It not longer assesses the patients in the same way it measures adults in the general population.

The SF-36 test is still valid but has limits in its ability to detect change in patients before and after cervical spine surgery. It is a good way to measure broad health concerns but is not specific enough for this group of patients.


Rachel Baron, PhD, et al. Measuring Outcomes in Cervical Spine Surgery: Think Twice Before Using the SF-36. In Spine. October 15, 2006. Vol. 31. No. 22. Pp. 2575-2584.

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