My husband is going to have a disc removed from his neck and one from his low back. Is that all there is to this operation? What keeps the bones in place without the disc?

Sometimes patients have part or all of a disc removed to take pressure off the spinal cord and/or spinal nerves. This operation works well to relieve pain. About 80 percent of the patients have a good or excellent result.

Just taking the disc out without repairing the damage can lead to problems later on. A large number of patients report neck and shoulder pain. Getting rid of one pain only to gain another is not a successful operation.

Most discectomies are just part of the operation. The surgeon usually fuses the two vertebral bones together on either side of where the disc used to be. A titanium cage filled with bone chips may be inserted between the two vertebrae to help keep the normal disc space.

A new development may change all this. In 2004, the FDA approved a new device called an artificial disc or disc prosthesis. It's designed for use in the lumbar spine but studies are underway to use it in the neck as well. Once the disc is removed, a disc implant can be inserted between the vertebral bones. The end result is pain free motion in all directions.