The former British and Irish Lions captain was forced to sit out Ireland’s autumn internationals and also missed the summer tour to New Zealand with a knee injury.
A Munster statement read: “Following consultation between IRFU and Munster medical staff and the player himself, it has been decided that Paul O’Connell will undergo back surgery at the earliest opportunity.”
The 33-year-old’s rehabilitation process is expected to take eight weeks, but Munster head coach Rob Penney believes O’Connell must put his health before his country.
“The good thing is there is light at the end of the tunnel for the guy and whatever happens, let’s just hope that he has got full use of his faculties and everything so he can live a normal and healthy life – the rugby stuff is secondary,” Penney told the Limerick Leader.
“I think this is a really massive step forward because the uncertainty for Paul has been a frustration.
“He has been beavering away with a whole lot of medical support and it has been, what they would term, a conservative management of his injury.
“They have come to the conclusion that the time has now come to be more on the front foot, to be more aggressive with the treatment.”
Ireland open their Six Nations campaign against Wales on February 2.