During Cervical Disk Surgery

During surgery, your surgeon may remove all or part of the disk (diskectomy). To reach the cervical spine, they may make an incision in the front (anterior) or the back (posterior) of your neck. With the anterior approach, the neck may be made more stable by joining the vertebrae (called fusion). With the posterior approach, bone may be removed to let your surgeon reach the disk.

Adding stability: fusion

After removing a disk from the front, your surgeon may fuse the vertebrae above and below it. This limits movement, helping to ease pressure and pain. First, the surgeon cleans the space between the vertebrae. The surgeon then plugs up the space with a plastic or metal cage. It's filled with bone chips, stem cells, or wedge-shaped bone graft. A metal plate with screws may be added to the front of the spine. As you heal, the cage or bone graft and the vertebrae above and below will grow together (fuse). After fusion, your ability to bend your neck may be slightly restricted.

Cross section of cervical vertebrae and disk with cage between vertebrae and plate with screws holding vertebrae together.
Side view.

Through the back: posterior approach

Your surgeon will make an incision (about 2 to 4 inches long) in the middle or next to the middle of the back of your neck. Then they may remove bone to reach the problem area. The surgeon then removes the damaged portion of the disk.

Top view of cervical vertebra and disk with with instrument removing disk from the back.
Top view.

Removing bone

To reach the disk from the back, your surgeon may enlarge the foramina or remove a portion of the lamina. To help ease pressure on the nerves or spinal cord, bone spurs may also be removed. The location and amount of bone removed depend on the type of problem you have.

Through the front: anterior approach

Your surgeon will make a horizontal or vertical incision (about 1 to 3 inches long) on either side of your neck. To reach the disk, soft tissue is moved aside. All or part of the disk that is irritating the nerve is then removed. Your surgeon may remove bone spurs. The vertebrae may then be prepared for a fusion.

Top view of cervical vertebra and disk with with instrument removing disk from front.
Top view.

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