It’s not clear if having an operation for a slipped disc can reduce back pain in the long term. A study showed that people who had an operation had less pain eight years after surgery, but we can’t be sure if the results are reliable.
The researchers looked at the results according to the groups that participants were initially put into. Eight years after their operation, people who were randomly chosen to have surgery had less pain and were able to do more than before they had treatment. But the improvement was not large enough to rule out being due to chance.
However, people tended to get better over time even if they didn’t have surgery. At the end of the study, regardless of whether they had been chosen to have other treatments or decided to themselves, about 54 in 100 people who had other treatments were happy with their symptoms compared with 36 in 100 at the start of the study.
When the researchers looked at the results according to which treatment the participants actually had, they found that after eight years people who had surgery had less pain and could do more than before they had treatment. But this is a less reliable way to view the results, because some people switched from the non-surgery groups to the surgery groups during the study. This can make it harder to tell if the results are down to the effect of the treatment, or because people felt their symptoms improved because they chose to have surgery.