A Therapeutic Alternative: Failed Back Surgery
Back surgery is an extremely common approach to back pain and problems in our society. However, there is considerable controversy about the effectiveness of surgical procedures in eliminating back pain. In fact, back surgery may lead to even worse symptoms (including pain) than before the procedure. Failed back surgery syndrome is a term used for patients who have had a poor surgical result for back or spine problems and who continue to experience pain after surgery. Learn more below about this common health problem and how to resolve it.
It’s estimated that failed back surgery syndrome occurs in 10 to 40 percent of people who undergo back surgery. Despite often poor outcomes, back surgery rates continue to increase in the United States. Almost all back surgery is performed for two distinct reasons:
1. To reduce pressure on a pinched nerve root (a branch of your spinal cord)
2. To stabilize a painful joint
Many back surgeries fail because the true underlying cause of back pain is not properly identified before the surgical procedure. Back pain has many possible causes, and accurate identification of the problem can be complicated.
Certain diseases or conditions may increase your likelihood of experiencing continued pain and other symptoms following back surgery, including:
Vascular disease (i.e., blood vessel disease)
Causes & Symptoms
Spine surgery can fail to produce the desired health benefits for many reasons. And even with the best surgeon there is no guarantee of a successful result. Most failed back surgeries occur because the problem that was operated on was not the true cause of the pain. Other possible causes of failed back surgery syndrome include:
- Recurrent disc herniation
Persistent postoperative pressure on your spinal nerve root(s)
Decreased spinal joint movement and mobility
Spinal joint instability and hypermobility
Scar tissue formation (fibrosis)
Spinal muscle deconditioning
The most common symptom associated with failed back surgery syndrome is a dull, aching pain in your back and/or legs. Other symptoms you may experience include:
- Decreased spinal mobility
Sharp or stabbing pain in your lower extremities
Numbness in your lower back and legs
Back muscle spasms
Depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness
Failed Back Surgery Treatment
A conventional approach to failed back surgery usually involves pain medication, physical therapy, and, somewhat shockingly, further invasive procedures. Results from these approaches vary considerably.