The human backbone or spine consists of 24 vertebrae: 7 in the cervical or neck region, 12 in the thoracic or upper body region, and 5 in the lower back or lumbar region. At the end of the spine are the sacred bone or sacrum and the tailbone or coccyx.

In order to render this backbone mobile, there is a cartilage-like shim between one vertebra and the next. This shim or disc, in turn, consists of an outer portion (the annulus fibrosus, or fibrous ring) and a gel-like central core (the nucleus pulposus). The outer portion is nothing but a collection of concentric rings of strong, sturdy material that supports and contains the inner, rather soft core. This soft core has primarily a shock absorbing function.

In essence, two problems can occur with these intervertebral discs: either they slowly wear down, resulting in pain, or the annulus is severed, resulting in a herniated disc. Discal hernias usually occur suddenly. This section will examine the different surgical treatment techniques available for these conditions. First we will discuss disc degeneration, and then herniated discs.