A discectomy can be performed anywhere along the spine from the neck (cervical) to the low back (lumbar).
The surgeon reaches the damaged disc from the front (anterior) of the spine, through the throat area. By moving aside the neck muscles, trachea, and esophagus, the disc and bony vertebrae are accessed. In the neck area of the spine, an anterior approach is more convenient than a posterior (back) because the disc can be reached without disturbing the spinal cord, spinal nerves, and the strong neck muscles of the back. Depending on your particular case, one disc (single-level) or more (multi-level) may be removed.
After the disc is removed, the space between the bony vertebrae is empty. To prevent the vertebrae from collapsing and rubbing together, the surgeon fills the open disc space with a bone graft which is typically packed into a cage type device. The cage is usually made of metal alloy, carbon fiber or polymer. The bone graft serves as a bridge between the two vertebrae to create a spinal fusion. The bone graft and vertebrae are often immobilized and held together with metal plates and screws. Following surgery the body begins its natural healing process and new bone cells are formed around the graft.