What is Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

By Michael Perry M.D.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

No surgeons who perform back surgery for the treatment of degenerative spine conditions are successful every time. Thousands of patients have had unsuccessful back surgery, which is categorized by the general term failed back surgery syndrome. Failed back surgery syndrome, also known as FBSS or failed back syndrome, refers to the condition of any back surgery patient who experiences the same symptoms, or whose symptoms get worse, as a result of a surgery that was designed to relieve neck or back pain. In addition to the pain, stress and long recovery involved in open neck and open back surgeries, 40 percent of open back surgery patients will also fall victim to some form of FBSS. The name itself is a bit of a misnomer, as it is really refers to a wide variety of conditions that can arise or continue after back surgery, and is not strictly a syndrome.

What causes FBSS?

Even in the best of circumstances, open back surgery is no better than 95 percent likely to achieve the desired result – and in many cases, it may make matters worse. Some of the many causes of failed back surgery syndrome include:

  • Failed spinal fusion
  • Incorrect location for surgery
  • Incorrect diagnosis or treatment
  • Creation of new spinal injuries or conditions due to the diverted stress of vertebral fusion
  • Creation of scar tissue
  • Nerve irritation or damage caused by surgical hardware or missed fragments of bone/disc
  • Residual pressure on nerve roots

Patients who experience FBSS often report continued pain caused by the original spine issue or even from new spinal weaknesses or injuries that were caused by the surgery. Often, the patient is unable to recuperate completely and endures such issues as neck or back pain, reduced mobility, spasms and even anxiety or depression.

How can FBSS be treated?

Generally speaking, the only treatments available for FBSS are the same as those available for the original underlying degenerative spine condition – conservative methods, such as pain medication, physical therapy, application of heat, etc.; or more aggressive treatment, such as additional surgery. There also is an option that has a higher success rate than open back surgery and can even treat the effects of failed back surgery syndrome.

At Laser Spine Institute, our surgeons have perfected innovative, minimally invasive outpatient procedures designed to treat spine issues effectively while reducing risk and the negative consequences of traditional open back surgery. If a previous back surgery has failed to relieve your symptoms or made them worse, or if you’re looking for an alternative to open back surgery, contact us today for more information or to take advantage of a review of your MRI or CT scan.