What You Need to Know About Failed Back Syndrome

failed back syndrome

When an individual undergoes back surgery, they expect that there will be a recovery time. They also expect that the condition that required the need for surgery will no longer be present. Unfortunately, sometimes back pain can persist after surgical treatment of the underlying condition was provided. This pain can extend past the usual amount of time it takes for a patient to fully heal from their operation. This is known as failed back syndrome.

As disappointing as it is to experience ongoing back pain after surgery has been performed to treat it, rest assured: you’re not back to square one. Your surgery didn’t necessarily fail, and all hope is not lost for finding relief for your back pain. While treatment after a failed back syndrome might involve additional surgery, there are a number of other options you and your doctor can explore.

What Causes Failed Back Syndrome?

There isn’t a single reason why some spinal surgeries fail to deliver the outcome expected by the patient or the surgeon. There are risks in every part of the surgical process that can lead to this condition, including:

  • Pre-operative patient risks, such as the presence of psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, obesity, smoking, or chronic pain
  • Surgical risks, including the failure to provide adequate decompression of the spinal cord or providing too much decompression
  • Post-operative factors, such as adjacent segment disease (ASD), in which a level above a spinal fusion creates stress and accelerates the degeneration of the fusion, nerve roots being trapped by scar tissue, or an infection in the spine

One of the most common symptoms of failed back syndrome is chronic back pain lasting for more than 12 weeks after surgery was performed. Patients who suffer from failed back syndrome will also commonly see a recurrence of the original symptoms that led to the surgical treatment, as well as potential development of new symptoms, such as headaches. 

A loss of mobility or limitation of movement after the expected recovery time can also be a sign of failed back syndrome, as can numbness, and burning or prickly sensations.

What Types of Back Surgery Are Associated With Failed Back Syndrome?

One of the types of surgery most commonly associated with failed back syndrome is lumbar spinal fusion surgery, in which the spine fails to fuse. This can result in a continuation of the pain and instability in the region, along with the loosening and weakening of the screws and rods that were used in the procedure. 

Surgery to repair a disc herniation also has a higher risk of failing than other types of procedures. Often, a herniated disc will be repaired only for the patient to have an additional disc herniation that is discovered after they’ve recovered from the initial surgery. Typically, the second herniation was minor and the symptoms were likely masked by the condition that resulted in the first surgery.

Does Failed Back Syndrome Always Result in a Second Surgery?

Many patients fear that their failed back syndrome will result in the need for a second surgery. However, your doctor will likely initially attempt a more conservative approach, as repeat back surgeries are more likely to also fail. However, if your doctor discovers a correctable problem with the structure of your spine, they may recommend surgery to repair it.

Not all cases of failed back syndrome require an additional operation. Many sufferers find relief through physical therapy as well as through injectable pain medications, spinal cord stimulation, or narcotic pumps to assist with pain control. Your doctor will work with you to develop a chronic pain management program that works for you.

Spinal cord stimulation is a minimally invasive procedure in which small electrodes are inserted in the body near the spine. For many patients, this treatment can not only reduce pain, but also improve the patient’s ability to function and return to work, features a significantly lower risk of complications than that presented by a second surgery, and is completely reversible if it doesn’t work.

If You Believe You Have Failed Back Syndrome, Contact Our Surgeons from OLSS

The medical team at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery understands how frustrating it can be when the outcome you expected after spinal surgery doesn’t become a reality. If you’ve had ongoing pain since your spine surgery, our experienced staff is ready to thoroughly investigate the details of your medical history and current condition in order to determine the cause of your pain. Once this has been accomplished, we can explore your treatment options with you and come up with a plan to correct the problem or manage the discomfort you are experiencing.

By providing personalized services and quality care, we look forward to helping you get your life back again after experiencing failed back surgery syndrome. The sooner we begin looking into the issues that are causing you continued or new pain, the sooner we can begin working on a solution for you. To schedule a consultation, send us a message online or call us at (855) 853-6542.