Herniated Disc Surgery: How to Prepare

Herniated disc surgery is done to decompress a nerve that is being pinched by a spinal disc that has been pushed out of place. Preparing the right way for herniated disc surgery can help you be relaxed about the procedure and ensure that you maximize your chances for a successful outcome.

Herniated disc surgery is often referred to as a discectomy. Some people with a herniated disc benefit from surgery that includes both a discectomy and a spinal fusion, where your spinal bones are fused together to limit motion (and pain) from that particular spinal segment. Preparation for a discectomy and fusion surgery are similar.

Photo of a surgeon pointing to a lumbar spine model.
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Herniated disc surgery typically takes place in a hospital or a dedicated surgical center. A hospital is usually required if you have a serious medical condition that requires monitoring.

Also, if your surgery is being done on multiple discs in your spine, thus carrying a greater risk, your surgeon may perform the operation at the hospital. You can expect to spend one evening in the hospital after surgery and then return home.

For single level and uncomplicated disc problems, your surgery may occur at a dedicated outpatient surgery center. You may return home a few hours after your operation.

Your out-of-pocket financial responsibilities may be different depending on if your surgery is at a hospital or surgical center. Be sure to contact your surgeon's office and insurance company to understand what is expected of you from a financial standpoint.

What to Wear

Be sure to wear comfortable clothing that is easy to manage for your arrival at the surgery center or hospital. Your surgeon will likely have you change into a hospital gown, and managing extra clothes may be tough when your operation is done.

If you know you will be having an overnight stay in the hospital, you may wish to bring your own robe and slippers, a change of underwear, and perhaps a change of clothing.

Food and Drink

On the day of your surgery, most physicians require that you do not consume any food or drink. This is to ensure that you are able to tolerate anesthesia without any problems. (Food or drink in your stomach may be regurgitated while you are under general anesthesia.)

Your surgeon will tell you when to stop consuming food and drink prior to your disc surgery. Most often, you can have a meal the evening before surgery, and then consume no food or drink when you awake on the day of your surgery.

If you need to take medication, you may be allowed to have small sips of water to help swallow pills. Be sure to speak with your surgeon or their staff to ensure you know exactly what you are, and are not, allowed to consume when preparing for herniated disc surgery.


Prior to herniated disc surgery, you may be taking prescription medication. Continue taking all medication unless you are instructed to stop by your physician. Your doctor will tell you when to stop taking certain medicines and when you can resume taking your prescription medication.

Be sure to bring your medication with you to surgery. The nursing staff will be able to hold your medicine for you during your operation and help you resume taking your medicine after surgery.

Notify your surgeon if you are taking vitamin or herbal supplements. Many of these over the counter supplements may have negative reactions with medicines used during surgery, and you may need to temporarily discontinue their use prior to herniated disc surgery.

If you are unsure of when or if you should stop taking a medicine or supplement, speak with your physician.

What to Bring to Surgery

When preparing for herniated disc surgery, you should make a list of items to bring to the hospital or surgical center. These may include:

  • Identification
  • Insurance card
  • Medication, labeled with your name and date of birth
  • Copayment for services if necessary
  • A book or newspaper (you may be asked to wait prior to surgery)
  • A trusted friend or family member who can act as your advocate during and after surgery

There are some things that you should not bring to surgery. These may include:

  • Jewelry
  • Expensive electronic devices like phones or tablets

While your personal property will be properly stored during your surgery, you simply cannot trust that someone will not run off with your tablet, mobile phone, or expensive watch. Keeping those items at home is a good idea.

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

If you have a herniated disc in your spine, you may be experiencing back pain, neck pain, sciatica, or arm pain. Many people benefit from conservative treatments to get relief. If your symptoms persist, you may benefit from surgery to correct the problem.

Prior to deciding to have surgery for your herniated disc, you will likely have already been through treatments such as:

Each of these healthcare or wellness professionals should make it clear that certain lifestyle changes may need to occur in order to properly treat your herniated disc.

Lifestyle changes that may improve the success of herniated disc surgery may include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising
  • Eating a well-balanced diet and watching your weight
  • Managing stress and anxiety
  • Learning about your procedure and the expected postoperative course

Making lifestyle changes before surgery can help your body and mind be prepared to have a successful operation. Plus, modifying your lifestyle in a positive way can carry through to your post-operative rehab, thus ensuring a positive outcome from the procedure.

Surgery in the COVID-19 Pandemic

If you are having surgery and your country is experiencing significant numbers of citizens with COVID-19 (coronavirus), you will likely be required to have a COVID-19 test prior to your herniated disc surgery.

Your surgeon's office will direct you where to go to have this simple test done. Often, your test will need to be completed three to five days prior to your operation.

A Word From Verywell

Herniated disc surgery can be a scary thing, but it is often a successful way to decompress a nerve to relieve pain and improve your functional mobility. Preparing for surgery can help you feel confident that you have done everything you can to understand your procedure and what is expected of you when you have the operation.

By taking time to prepare your medicine, gather and organize your belongings, and make small, but important, lifestyle changes, you can maximize your chances of having a successful outcome and a full return to your previous level of activity.

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