Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

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Failed Back Surgery Syndrome refers to the condition of patients who have not experienced positive results after back surgery and continue to feel pain.

Causes of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

The number one cause of failed back surgery is operating on the wrong lesion, or on the lesion that wasn’t the cause of the initial pain.

Some types of back surgeries have a higher success rate than others. For example, a discectomy for a lumbar disc herniation that is causing leg pain has a high rate of success. Whereas a discectomy for a lumbar disc herniation that is causing lower back pain is much riskier.

Therefore, to reduce the risk of failed back surgery syndrome, patients should stick to operations that have a high degree of success.


Other causes of failed back surgery syndrome and pain after surgery include:

  • Failure to fuse and/or implant failure
  • Transfer lesion to another level after a spine fusion if the next level degenerates and causes pain
  • Recurrent spinal stenosis, inadequate decompression of a nerve root, and preoperative nerve damage that doesn’t heal after a decompressive surgery
  • Nerve damage caused by surgery
  • Formation of scar tissue around the nerve root
  • Pain from a secondary pain generator

Symptoms of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

An unsuccessful back surgery may cause the following symptoms:

  • Chronic pain
  • Nociceptive pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Radicular pain
  • Return of original symptoms
  • Pain in new or different areas of the spine
  • Different type of pain
  • Reduced mobility
  • Headaches
  • Dull ache
  • Numbness
  • Cold sensations
  • Burning or prickly sensations

Patients may need emergency treatment if they experience:

  • New weakness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Electric-like pain in the lower body
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function

Treatment Options for Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

At Westcare Clinics, patients diagnosed with failed back surgery syndrome may be treated with joint and soft tissue injections, pain management techniques, and occupational medicine, depending on the exact location, cause, and severity of the pain.

Joint and soft tissue injections, such as epidural injections (interlaminar and transforaminal), sacroiliac joint injections, piriformis injection, and trigger point injections, can help ease and treat failed back surgery syndrome. The type of soft tissue injection that is done will depend on the severity and location of the pain.

Patients suffering from failed back surgery syndrome may experience relief by incorporating pain management techniques into treatment; these techniques may include cold and heat therapy, physical therapy, therapeutic massage, gentle exercise, biofeedback, mind-body techniques, music therapy, and occupational therapy. The pain management techniques will be customized according to the patient’s needs.

Westcare Clinics also practices occupational medicine, which is done to help patients maintain the strength and flexibility they need to continue working. Our healthcare practitioners are available to train employers to adapt the workplace and worker responsibilities to the physical limitations of their employees.

Advanced Treatment

Patients experiencing pain from failed back surgery syndrome may need complex, long-term care to completely treat the condition. Advanced treatment options may include surgery, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustment, acupuncture, and other forms of rehabilitation. The Westcare Clinics team is happy to answer any questions patients may have about obtaining advanced treatment for failed back surgery syndrome.



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