Failed Back Surgery

Half a million people go under the knife to correct back pain every year, many of them here in the Pensacola area. While the majority find relief, as many as one in five experience what is known as failed back syndrome, also sometimes called post-laminectomy syndrome. For these individuals, other therapies are needed to help with their pain and help them return to full and active lives.

What Is a Failed Back Surgery?

A wide range of back surgeries are performed to correct spinal conditions. These surgeries can include:

  • discectomies
  • laminectomies
  • spinal stenosis decompression
  • spinal fusion

and several others.

Most surgeries provide relief. In a failed back surgery, the pain may either be unimproved or even made worse.

Symptoms of a Failed Back Surgery

The most common symptom of a failed back surgery is that the symptoms there were experienced before surgery, such as pain, stiffness, tingling or numbness, persist after the surgery is performed. A number of people experience a dull aching sensation in the back or legs. Stabbing and pricking sensations are also common.

In some cases, the individual who has had surgery will initially feel a relief of symptoms; However, within three to six months after surgery, their pain will return. Some people will find that, instead of relieving their pain, surgery makes it worse or introduces types of pain they did not experience before or pain in new areas.

What Causes Failed Back Surgery?

The most common cause of failed back surgery is due to nerve roots that do not heal properly. The surgery may be performed to decompress the spine, but the nerve roots do not recover. In other cases, scar tissue can form in the back, which puts pressure on the nerves and leads to serious back pain.

Misdiagnosis of a back problem can lead to a surgery that is not appropriate and does not correct the issue that is causing pain. People who experience abnormal pain behaviors before surgery can find that they do not have pain relief after. Those who have clinical depression or anxiety have a higher incidence of failed back surgeries, as do people who are medically considered poor candidates for the surgery chosen.

If the patient has a degenerative disease, even a correct diagnosis and a properly performed surgery can fail to relieve symptoms permanently. Conditions with a high level of recurrence, such as herniated discs, can mean that between five and 15% of those who have surgery will experience the condition again in the future.

Diagnosing a Failed Back Surgery

The diagnosis procedure for failed back surgery is similar to the diagnosis of any other back problem. The steps toward a diagnosis include:

  • a detailed medical history that includes the onset of symptoms and lifestyle factors that can affect back pain. We will also look for factors outside the spine that can be causing back pain.
  • a physical exam. This exam will include an assessment of your mobility, pain levels, and pain triggers.
  • diagnostic tests. In many cases, diagnostic tests like X-rays and MRIs can help provide more information about the cause of back pain.

Treatments for a Failed Back Surgery

Fortunately, there is now a wide array of options for treating the symptoms that can arise after failed back surgery. At Gulf Coast Pain Institute, we bring professionals from several disciplines together under one roof so you can get the personalized treatment that will help resolve your pain. Treatment options include:

  • Physical therapy - Some pain after back surgery is caused by a change in body mechanics. Our physical therapist can teach you the ways to stand and move to eliminate pain, as well as strengthening exercises.
  • Chiropractic - Adjustments can alleviate pressure and pain.
  • Massage - When muscle tension causes pain, massage can help muscles relax.
  • Medications - Options for pain relief range from painkillers and anti-inflammatories to muscle relaxers and steroids.
  • Interventional medicine - Pain relieving options can include trigger point injections, nerve blocks, and epidural steroid injections to battle pain at the source.

Each individual is different. We work with you to create a treatment plan that can help you most.

Request a Consultation

Has your back surgery failed to correct your back problems? Has it introduced new ones? We can help. Gulf Coast Pain Institute offers a range of healthcare professionals to give you the customized care you need. Call for an appointment today.

Experiencing symptoms or want to find out more?