South Africa skipper John Smit will miss the Springboks' November tour to Great Britain and Ireland.
The 32-year-old underwent surgery in Durban on Wednesday to repair a chronic cervical disc.
He will be sidelined for three months, ruling him out of autumn appointments with Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England and the Barbarians.
The Springboks hooker has won 102 caps and led them to World Cup glory in France three years ago,
Springboks team doctor Craig Roberts said an operation was carried out to ensure the disc did not get progressively worse.
"It will also ensure John's availability for the Springboks and the Sharks for the 2011 season," Roberts told www.sarugby.net.
"The timing was right for John to undergo surgery as he will now have a prolonged period of recovery in advance of the new season.
"This was not a career-threatening injury."
Lock Victor Matfield is the favourite to take over from Smit as tour captain.