What are the Symptoms of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) is a series of symptoms and pain that can result if a back surgery was not effective. In some cases, new pain and symptoms can develop as a result of a failed back surgery.

Before considering whether or not you are suffering from failed back surgery syndrome, it is important to understand the distinction between FBSS and general pain and stiffness that sometimes occurs within the first few weeks after spine surgery.
Residual pain near the site of your surgical incision a few weeks after major neck or back surgery is normal due to the invasiveness of the surgery. Traditional open spine surgery requires a large incision and often the cutting and tearing of the large back muscles that support the spine. After a spinal fusion, the body will take time to adjust to the presence of new implants. This can cause soreness and muscle weakness in the back for several weeks after surgery.

For these reasons, it is important to understand that some postoperative pain is normal. This pain should begin to fade after a week or two, even if it does not completely diminish. If the pain and symptoms do not reduce, or if they begin to worsen over time, you may be suffering from failed back surgery syndrome.

FBSS Symptoms

The most obvious symptom of failed back surgery syndrome is persistent, chronic pain that is not associated with the healing process. Other symptoms associated with FBSS include:

  • New pain at a level different from the location treated
  • Inability to recuperate
  • Restricted mobility
  • Sharp, stabbing back pain
  • Numbness or pain radiating through the lower back into the legs
  • Back spasms
  • Anxiety, depression and sleeplessness
  • Potential dependence on pain medication

What to Do if You Experience FBSS Symptoms

It is important to precisely follow the postoperative instructions given by your medical team in order to have your best chance of healing properly and avoiding FBSS. If you suspect your back surgery has failed, the first step is to inform your primary care physician, as well as the surgeon who performed the procedure. To treat failed back surgery syndrome, your physician will recommend you first recommit to a course of conservative treatments such as pain medication, physical therapy, and stretching.

However, if chronic pain persists after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, you may need to undergo a follow-up surgical procedure. If you are in this situation, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery.

Our minimally invasive decompression and stabilization surgeries have helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain, including people dealing with failed back surgery syndrome. By using muscle-sparing techniques, our procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis and with less risk of complication compared to traditional open spine surgery.