A prosthetic nucleus for a vertebral disc is made of a hydrogel material. The hydrogel prosthetic nucleus has a shape generally conforming to the natural nucleus pulposus. The hydrogel has a water content of at least 30% and has a compressive strength of 4MNm.sup.-2 or greater. When the hydrogel material is dehydrated, it has a dimension of less than half of that of the hydrated hydrogel nucleus. The prosthetic nucleus may be formed of two or more pieces of hydrogel material which pieces, when combined, have a shape generally conforming to the natural nucleus.