What Is Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

What Is Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

Leg pain and numbness are common symptoms that lumbar decompression surgery can effectively treat. However, some patients experience lingering symptoms or symptoms that occur within a few years of surgery.

A weak spine, slipped disc, or a thickened ligament that presses on your spinal cord can result in recurrent symptoms after surgery. It is safe to have back surgery, but what happens when surgery doesn't work or worsens the situation?

This does happen in some instances, and it has a name: failed back surgery syndrome. Don’t give up on getting relief if your back still hurts or you sustain damage from surgery.

Even if a prior spine surgery has been unsuccessful, there are still treatment options to help you get relief. Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Thomas Jones II, MD, of The Spine Institute of Southeast Texas, can perform a revision surgery to treat failed back surgery syndrome.

What is failed back surgery syndrome?

The term “failed back surgery syndrome” is a misnomer. It isn’t a syndrome, but rather refers to persistent pain or other symptoms you experience following recovery from back surgery. 

The majority of the time, when you undergo surgery to treat back pain or radiculopathy, you’ve already exhausted other, more conservative options. Nonsurgical treatment is typically the initial therapy for back pain because many cases of the condition resolve on their own in a matter of weeks or months. 

A discectomy, laminectomy, or spinal fusion procedure might be necessary if pain doesn't go away. 

What causes failed back surgery syndrome?

Failed back surgery syndrome doesn't necessarily imply that the procedure went wrong but that it failed to have the intended outcome. Spinal fusion surgery is one of the situations where we see failed back syndrome most frequently. 

After spinal fusion, the spine doesn’t immediately become fully fused. Instead, your surgeon creates an environment that promotes fusion by inserting a tissue graft between two or more vertebrae.

The spine needs to be somewhat immobilized and stabilized in order for the vertebrae to fully fuse. The spinal fusion may not work if the conditions are not just right for forming new bone tissue. This is one of the most common causes of failed back surgery syndrome.

Another typical scenario occurs when a patient with degenerative disc disease undergoes a discectomy or laminectomy to relieve the symptoms of a herniated disc. Although the procedure went well, a herniated disc can still have an impact in a number of different places along the spinal column.

After recovering from surgery, patients who’ve had one disc herniation repaired occasionally discover that another one has developed or that a more minor herniation that already existed was being covered up by more severe symptoms, which the surgery corrected.

A number of variables can increase the risk of failed back syndrome, including the type of surgery, the number of surgeries, and the presence of other spinal conditions. 

Treatment options for failed back surgery syndrome 

You might feel like you're starting over if spine surgery didn’t completely relieve your symptoms of chronic pain. Given the risks of additional surgery following a failed back surgery, Dr. Jones may advise trying conservative treatment, such as physical therapy again. The goal is to strengthen your core and extend the range of motion of your spine. 

Spinal cord stimulation is an additional option if your symptoms primarily consist of pain that radiates to your arms or legs rather than being localized in your back. A stimulator is an implantable device that sends electrical signals to spinal cord nerve roots. This option has fewer side effects and requires less time in the hospital than reoperation.

If these things fail to provide adequate relief, Dr. Jones can discuss revision surgery. 

You still have options if your pain persists despite having surgery. Give us a call to schedule a comprehensive evaluation with Dr. Jones, or request an appointment online today. You can also take advantage of telemedicine to keep you connected with exceptional care.

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