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When Does a Herniated Disc Require Surgery?

Jul 06, 2023
When Does a Herniated Disc Require Surgery?

When Does a Herniated Disc Require Surgery?

A herniated disc is a literal pain in the back. It causes significant discomfort and unease, quickly making you seek every possible treatment option to relieve your pain. While surgery is a viable option for severe herniated discs, not every case requires you to go under the knife. 

Whether you need therapy, medication, or even surgery, Dr. Phillip Henkin and our specialists at NeuroSpine Center in Tampa, Florida, are here to help. 

With more than three decades of experience effectively treating complex neurological conditions, Dr. Henkin is an expert at pinpointing the root of your discomfort and crafting a personalized treatment plan.

Here he uncovers the scenarios in which a herniated disc would require surgery. 

What is a herniated disc? 

Your spine is made up of a column of bones called vertebrae. Between these bones are discs that act like cushions. These discs comprise two main parts, a gel-like substance inside and a tougher exterior. 

The gel-like interior absorbs shocks from daily activities like walking, lifting, or twisting. Sometimes, the interior gel may protrude through the exterior due to aging, injuries, or genetics — and that’s a herniated disc. 

When this happens, the disc can press on the nerves around it, causing pain, weakness, or numbness.

Non-surgical treatment options for a herniated disc

Before even considering surgery, exploring non-surgical treatment options that can be effective for you is vital.

  • Physical therapy: guided exercises that strengthen muscles to relieve pressure on the disc
  • Medication: anti-inflammatory medication or pain relievers may alleviate the pain
  • Lifestyle changes: weight loss, avoiding heavy lifting, or correcting your posture can have a significant positive impact
  • Injections: cortisone injections near the nerve roots can reduce inflammation and pain
  • Alternate therapies: chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, or massage therapy can sometimes provide relief

Remember, it's not uncommon for a herniated disc to heal on its own with time and traditional treatments.

When is surgery required?

Sometimes, surgery becomes necessary to repair a herniated disc. 

Severe pain that doesn't improve with time or nonsurgical treatments 

If you've been experiencing debilitating pain for over six weeks despite trying conservative treatments, it might be time to consider surgical options.

Progressive neurological symptoms

If there's a noticeable and progressive loss of sensation or strength in your arms and legs or you start experiencing coordination difficulties, these could be signs that the herniated disc is significantly affecting your nerves.

Cauda equina syndrome

This is a rare but severe condition where the herniated disc compresses the bundle of nerve roots at the lower end of your spinal cord. Symptoms include loss of bladder or bowel control and severe leg weakness. Cauda equina is a medical emergency and requires immediate surgery.

Surgical options 

If you need surgery for a herniated disc, you have several options to consider:


Microdiscectomy is the most common surgery for a herniated disc and involves removing the portion of the disc pressing on the nerve.


A laminectomy removes the part of the bone that covers the spinal canal, known as the lamina,  to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Artificial disc surgery

In this procedure, we replace the damaged disc with an artificial one to maintain more natural movement than a fusion.

Spinal fusion

Dr. Henkin fuses two or more vertebrae to stabilize the spine in this widely performed, time-honored procedure. 

So, when does a herniated disc require surgery? It's when nonsurgical treatments don't relieve the pain or when there are severe neurological symptoms or complications like cauda equina syndrome. However, every case is unique, and Dr. Helkin discusses all your options. 

NeuroSpine Center is a great place to start your journey to a pain-free life. Our experienced team can guide you through decisions and develop a personalized plan. 

Don't let a herniated disc keep you on the sidelines; schedule an appointment online today or call 813-534-4945.