Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

What Is Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

The spine which consists of an intricate system of ligaments, vertebrae, cartilages and joints is susceptible to many disorders and injuries. The associated disorders mostly present themselves with old age. If the symptoms relating to a spine disorder becomes persistent and debilitating, conservative treatment methods do not suffice. In the case of a threat of future complication, an individual may decide to undergo a corrective surgical process.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome 2

Spine surgeries are less painful and highly effective. Such surgeries are minimally invasive and have lower risks of post-surgical complications. In fact, most of such surgical operations can be carried out as outpatient procedures where the patient is sent back home on the very same day the surgery is done.

For a small group, however, post-surgical pain and discomfort may come about. When this happens, it is referred to as “failed back surgery syndrome” and encompasses all experiences of back pains after a back surgery. Aching or sharp pains may gradually develop after the operation or be continually present from the time the surgery concludes.

A variety of reasons can hinder a successful surgery. To achieve relief after an operation, it is essential to identify and gather necessary knowledge regarding complications behind your back pain. An experienced surgeon is best suited to evaluate your symptoms and medical history to diagnose failed back surgery syndrome.


Failed Back Surgery Syndrome Causes

By definition, failed back surgery syndrome is the pain that resurfaces or remains after a surgical operation of the spine. There are many underlying causes for these symptoms which include:

  • Failure to fuse after a spinal fusion surgery

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

  • Implant failure
  • Undergoing a spinal operation that statistically risky
  • Formation of adhesions around the nerve roots.
  • Inaccurate diagnosis was leading to surgery in the wrong area.
  • Smoking
  • Obesity and excess weight
  • Post-operative infection
  • Injury felt during a spinal surgery
  • Bone spurs
  • Malnutrition
  • Manifestation of a degenerative condition or a subsequent injury
  • Lack of adequate exercise after the healing process is complete.

To improve your quality of life, always make sure to consult a doctor in case you suspect you are suffering from failed back injury syndrome.


The obvious and most prevalent symptom of failed back surgery syndrome is the constant back ache that is felt even long after a surgical operation of the spine has been done. This particular pain can be acute and does not lessen throughout the recovery process. Sometimes, the pain might be equal or worse than the pain felt before the operation. The following are some additional symptoms of the syndrome:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited mobility and difficulty when walking, standing or bending
  • Dull, sharp pain cascading through the neck, back, and legs
  • Inability to heal from the post-surgery
  • Stabbing or severe pain
  • Noticeable pain that develops after post-surgery

The above-mentioned symptoms can be caused by an array of other spine-related disorders. To confirm for sure, a knowledgeable spine specialist carries tests and examinations to give an accurate diagnosis. Identifying and treating the source of the pain reduces complications that would have been otherwise dangerous and life-threating.

If you or your loved ones ever experience high fever, incontinence or bleeding of the bowels or bladder in conjunction with severe back pain, quick seek medical attention as fast as you can.

Diagnosis And Treatment

You do not allow pain from a previous surgery remain a part of your daily life. If you experience distress and discomfort in the form of back pains after a spine surgery, consult a doctor for treatment

During the initial appointment, a spine expert will carefully examine your back to identify the cause of the pain. For efficacy, the doctor might have to choose between varieties of methods including physical examination, state-of-the-art-pain-mapping procedure or an imaging test such as X-ray, CT scan or MRI. After determining the actual cause of the pain, the doctor will construct a treatment plan that is designed around your preferences and medical history.

The treatment plan will entirely depend on the cause of the symptoms. Conservative treatment options are tried before considering invasive surgical operations. The following are some non-surgical methods that can be used to relieve pain or inhibition caused by a previous surgery.


Contrary to most popular beliefs, rest and sleep, do not benefit patients suffering from spine-related disorders. Low-impact exercise alongside targeted physical therapy offer the most efficient means of strengthening the abdominal muscles, relieving weight placed on the back, and improving the body’s flexibility.


Over the counter pain relievers and localized injections can significantly reduce discomfort levels caused by failed back surgery syndrome. With some medications going up to 6 months, patients prefer implementing the long-term recuperation options, such as physical therapy.

Additional treatments

Undergoing therapeutic massage, buying proper footwear, maintaining good positions during rest or sleep, and making other adjustments to your daily routine can relieve the pain and inflammation caused by failed back surgery syndrome. The location of the disorder and the severity of the same will determine the suitable treatment option.

Conservative treatment helps the patients to find their healing after a failed back surgery. To some other patients, however, the underlying cause of the back pain cannot be addressed by any other method apart from corrective surgery. The surgery should be presided by an expert able to perform minimally invasive laparoscopic surgical operations that are driven by individual patient’s needs. As opposed to traditional surgeries, minimally invasive surgeries benefit the patients in the following ways:

  • Reduced post-operative pain
  • Reduced complication levels
  • Quick recovery period that allows the patients to return to their normal lives
  • Lower risk of scarring or losing too much blood
  • Reduced trauma to muscles and the surrounding tissues

If the patient is an obese or an overweight person with a significant scar tissue from the previous surgery, corrective surgery may not be the best way to go about treating the back pains. The surgeons should be knowledgeable enough to apply the best surgical approach in treating failed back surgery syndrome.


  1. Follet K, Dirks B. Etiology and evaluation of the failed back surgery syndrome. Neurosurg Q 1993; 3: 40–59
  2. North RB, Kidd DH, Zahurak M, et al. Spinal cord stimulation for chronic, intractable pain: experience over two decades. Neurosurgery 1993; 32: 384–394. [PubMed]
  3. Wilkinson HA. The Failed Back Syndrome: Etiology and Therapy. Philadelphia: Harper & Row, 1991.
  4. Kumar K, Taylor RS, Jacques L, et al. Spinal cord stimulation versus conventional medical management for neuropathic pain: a multicentre randomised controlled trial in patients with failed back surgery syndrome. Pain 2007; 132: 179–188. [PubMed]
  5. Leveque JC, Villavicencio AT, Rubin L, Bulsara K, Gorecki JP. Spinal cord stimulation for failed back surgery syndrome. Neuromodulation 2001; 4: 1–9. [PubMed]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *