O'Connell, who captained the Lions during their last tour in South Africa four years ago, has been ruled out of action until April after undergoing surgery on his back for the second time at the end of last year.
Having only played two games for his provincial side Munster this season and not started for Ireland since last year's Six Nations, the 33-year-old lock said the selection for the Lions tour may come too soon.
"You'd imagine the Lions squad will be picked on the basis of the Six Nations so it's going to be very difficult to make it on that trip," O'Connell, who also toured with the Lions in 2005, told the national broadcaster RTE on Wednesday.
"I'd love to get back playing in April and see what happens. I'd love to get on some tour during the summer be it with Ireland or the Lions."
O'Connell, Ireland seventh most capped player with 85 appearances, has been dogged by injury in recent years but said he never really considered that the most recent setback could prematurely end his career.
"Certainly when you've a back injury you do have doubts but the medical staff have been very happy with how it went and I don't think playing again is an issue," he said.
"I'll be back, when that will be I'm not sure, it will probably be somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks."