Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), also called failed back syndrome, is a general term used to describe the chronic pain that can appear in the aftermath of any back surgery that fails to relieve a preexisting pain-causing condition. A number of different risk factors can contribute to the onset of this condition. Fortunately, North American Spine can provide treatments that have been found to be effective in treating patients with failed back surgery syndrome.

The symptoms of FBSS may be similar to the pain a patient experienced before his or her initial surgery. These include:

  • In the lumbar spine: pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet. If impingement affects one of the roots of your sciatic nerve, you can develop sciatica. In extreme cases, a condition called “foot drop,” in which the ability to flex the foot upward is compromised, may develop.
  • In the cervical spine: pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in the neck, arms, hands, and sometimes in the head
  • In the thoracic spine: pain, tingling, or numbness starting in the upper or mid back and radiating through the stomach or chest, which patients often confuse for cardiovascular problems

Prior to having a surgical procedure to treat your failed back surgery syndrome, conservative measures such as physical therapy, chiropractic, and steroid injections should be attempted. If these measures do not meaningfully relieve your pain, a North American Spine procedure may be in order.

Failed back surgery syndrome has a range of possible causes, including misidentification of your back problems before surgery, and the selection of a surgical procedure that has a relatively small chance of reducing or eliminating your symptoms.

Additional common Failed Back Surgery Syndrome causes include:

  • Misidentification of problems. Back problems with similar symptoms may have distinctly different underlying sources. This means that a surgical procedure on your back must always be preceded by a careful and accurate process of diagnosis. In most cases, the cause of failed back surgery syndrome is simply misdiagnosis of the origin of your pain or other related symptoms.
  • Low-success procedures. Not all forms of back surgery have equal odds of achieving their aims and relieving your symptoms. As a rule, your chances for experiencing a failed back surgery rise when you or your doctor chooses an unproven procedure or a procedure known to have a limited track record of success.
  • Scar tissue formation. Scar tissue can cause failed back surgery syndrome if it essentially recreates the original problem by impinging on nerves or nerve roots. Because traditional, open surgery tends to create larger formations of scar tissue, minimally invasive surgery may decrease the risk of FBSS.
  • Incomplete surgical results. Even if a surgeon properly identifies the cause of your back-related symptoms, he or she must make sure that this cause is thoroughly corrected on the operating table. For example, if you have a herniated disc pressing against your spinal nerves, pressure from this disc must be completely removed in order to provide relief. Failure to fully ease pressure on your nerve tissue can lead to continuing problems in the aftermath of surgery.

Other, less-common causes for the onset of failed back surgery syndrome include a recurrence of the original cause of your symptoms, collateral nerve damage caused by a surgeon during a corrective operation, permanent nerve damage from the original source of your problems, and the appearance of pain from another source following surgery.

North American Spine partner physicians have the broadest range of minimally invasive solutions for your back or neck pain. Depending on the location and severity of your pain, your treatment will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Decompression: Minimally invasive decompression surgery aims to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. This pressure can be caused by many conditions. Using a surgical laser, if necessary, soft tissue will be removed and pressure on nerves will be relieved. For more on decompression, see Decompression.
  • Stabilization/Fusion: Minimally invasive stabilization/fusion surgery aims to restore spinal stability lost to collapsed discs. Diseased material is removed and stability is regained by fusing vertebrae or replacing diseased material with specialized hardware. For more on stabilization, see Stablization
  • Injections: Injections aim to reduce inflammation, block pain, and/or aid in the regeneration of healthy nerve passages. These procedures often are not permanent solutions, but they may be repeated when pain returns. They are extremely quick procedures with virtually no recovery time.
  • Other Procedures: North American Spine partner physicians may suggest other types of procedures, including the placement of a Spinal Cord Stimulator, an implanted device that blocks the pain signals created by a variety of conditions. For more on our other procedures, see Other Procedures.

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