Guide to failed back surgery syndrome

Failed back surgery syndrome is a combination of complications after a traditional open back surgery or fusion. The term is used to describe the conditions that arise when a back surgery fails to accomplish the desired goals of pain relief. It can also include complications that occur during and after a surgical procedure that worsen the condition being treated or cause additional issues for the patient.

If you are recovering from back surgery, the last phrase you want to hear is failed back surgery syndrome. The characteristic symptoms of failed back surgery syndrome include the development of new pain or the increase of previous pain compared to the pain level prior to back surgery. It can also include limited mobility and spasms in the back or extremities.

For many patients, back surgery was a last resort treatment after years of suffering and ineffective conservative treatments. This type of diagnosis can be very overwhelming for a patient. By reading the following article and understanding what causes failed back surgery syndrome, you and your physician can determine the next steps necessary for pain relief.

What causes back surgery to fail?

One of the most common reasons that traditional open back surgery fails is the highly invasive techniques used during the procedure. For many traditional open back surgeries, the procedure begins with an incision in the back that spans between 6 to 8 inches. Once the incision is made, the surgeon then removes the muscles around the spine that are obstructing the surgery by cutting through them and sometimes detaching the muscles altogether.

This highly invasive incision and muscle-tearing procedure increase a patient’s risk of excessive blood loss, infection and excessive scar tissue — all of which can lead to failed back surgery syndrome. Excessive scar tissue caused by the invasive incision of traditional spine surgery is one of the most common causes of increased pain and symptoms after the procedure.

As the body works to rebuild the skin, muscles and ligaments around the site of the incision, scar tissue builds up internally to help seal the cuts. This scar tissue can protrude into the spinal canal, pinching a nerve root and causing severe pain and symptoms. Additionally, the scar tissue can expand into the spinal fusion area itself and prevent the fusion from fully forming.

What can be done to treat failed back surgery syndrome?

When treating failed back surgery syndrome, the usual approach is to address the underlying issue, which could also alleviate any related symptoms. Sometimes, this can be done through conservative means, such as TENS therapy (transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation), physical therapy, stretches, low-impact exercises and hot and cold compresses.

In other cases, additional surgery may be advised. Although the previous surgery was likely a disappointment for the patient, a minimally invasive surgery at Laser Spine Institute can help alleviate the effects of failed back surgery syndrome. Our minimally invasive procedures include a small incision that does not alter the muscles or ligaments near the spine, thereby providing a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^

Since 2005, we have helped more than 75,000 people find relief from chronic neck and back pain, many of them suffering from failed back surgery syndrome, and we are confident that we can help you recapture your quality of life. To learn more about the advantages of our procedures and what sets us apart as the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute today.

We can review your MRI or CT scan for free* to determine whether you may be a potential candidate for our outpatient procedures.