Surgery is considered if the following conditions are present:
- You have leg pain that hasn't improved with at least 4 weeks of nonsurgical treatment, and your symptoms are bad enough to interfere with normal activities and work and to require strong pain medicine.
- You have weakness, loss of motion, or abnormal sensitivity.
- Tests show that your herniated disc can be treated surgically.
People who have surgery may feel better faster. But in the long run, people treated with surgery and people treated without surgery have similar abilities to work and to be active.3 Some people require additional disc surgery after their first surgery.
Many people are able to gradually resume work and daily activities soon after surgery. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a rehabilitation program after surgery, which might include physical therapy and home exercises.
A number of technologies using small incisions or injections for destroying the disc are used by some surgeons. Examples are endoscopic discectomy and electrothermal disc decompression. These techniques are experimental and unproved. If your doctor recommends one of them to treat your herniated disc, make sure to get as much information as possible about the procedure. Consider getting a second opinion.
Laser discectomy uses a focused beam of light to dissolve a herniated disc. Although this technology has been used by some surgeons for several years, it is considered experimental because of the lack of studies on its effectiveness and safety.4
Other treatments that have been tried include removing the center of the disc and removing all or part of the disc by using suction. These treatments are not considered to be effective.