Why Sometimes Back Surgery Fails…And What You Can Do Next

Having back surgery is a big deal for a patient. By the time most patients reach the point where they require surgery, they’ve been suffering with the pain for a long time. This is usually the last resort. Surgery offers a sense of hope; that finally, after everything they’ve been through, they’ll be on the road to recovery. They work with their spine surgeon to determine the right procedure and prepare themselves mentally and physically for it. They are willing to spend their money, take time off of work, and go through the recovery process in order to finally get relief from their pain and get back their quality of life.

It’s these high hopes that make a failed back surgery so devastating. Not only does the surgery fail to provide relief, it could actually be worse after the surgery. Many patients worry that they are imagining the pain or their loved ones think they are making a big deal out of nothing, but in fact, it’s a very real problem for many patients post-surgery. In fact, this issue has a name: Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS). It’s an all-too-common problem for back surgery patients. As many as 40% of patients who go through invasive surgical procedures on their back experience the FBSS to some degree.

Why Does Failed Back Surgery Syndrome Happen

FBSS can happen for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s important to remember that identifying the root cause of back pain can be extremely difficult. Your spine is a complicated structure; there are a lot of moving parts including tendons, joints, bones, nerves, and ligaments that all work together to create an area of the body that’s responsible for a lot of your major functions. When anything inside of this complicated mechanism goes wrong, it can throw off the entire system. Knowing what’s actually causing the problem is tough, because the symptoms could be manifesting in a different area of the body when it’s actually an issue in the spine. For instance, some patients report numbness or tingling in their arms and hands, but the issue is actually a pinched nerve in the back.

An Incorrect Diagnosis

What’s the first reason FBSS can occur: an incorrect diagnosis. The spine surgeon may have assumed incorrectly that they’d identified the root cause of the problem, performed a surgical procedure to correct it, and then found that that hadn’t been the cause of the back pain at all. Using diagnostic injections can help spine surgeons pinpoint the area and the cause of your back pain, as well as correlating your symptoms with evidence seen in MRI and CAT scans.

New Issues in the Back

Unfortunately, it could be your back surgery itself that’s causing your current pain. The spine surgeon may have accurately diagnosed the cause of your back pain and performed the surgery correctly. But surgery is a complicated thing, especially invasive and traditional open back surgeries. There is more risk to the patients because the incisions are bigger, the muscles are affected, and their recovery takes more time. The procedure could have aggravated an already-present issue in your back or created an entirely new problem on it’s own.

What To Do When Your Back Surgery Fails

First, remember that recovery from back surgery can take a significant amount of time, especially if you went through traditional open back surgery. It’s important to give your body plenty of time, rest, and care as it recovers from the trauma of the surgery. Don’t assume that your surgical procedure has failed because you are in back a few days afterwards. Most patients will experience a great deal of inflammation in the back after surgery, which can create pain. Be sure to follow the instructions from your spine surgeon for recovery after your surgery and take any medication that they recommend.

However, if you are still in pain a few weeks or a month after your surgery, it’s time to consider that you may be suffering from FBSS. The first step is to stay in communication with your doctors and surgeons about your symptoms as they may have suggestions to help you overcome the pain or aid in your recovery. The next step may be to get a second opinion.

If you are suffering from FBSS, it’s important to work with a spine surgeon who has experience helping patients with their pain. An experienced spine surgeon will take you through a comprehensive diagnostic workup, which could include getting your medical history, including all of your current symptoms and the treatments you’ve tried for the pain, as well as a physical examination to look for signs and symptoms that might clue them into what is now causing your pain.

Many spine surgeons will also use diagnostic injections to aid them in pinpointing the root cause of your pain. These injections usually contain a combination of a steroid and pain-killing medication. The injections will help reduce any inflammation in the area and provide temporary pain relief. If the injections work, they will also inform the doctor as to the location of the damage in your back and give them a better idea about the next steps to treat your pain.

Once a spine surgeon feels they have the most accurate diagnosis possible, they’ll work with you to develop a treatment plan to address your currently back pain and help you find relief. That treatment plan could include conservative at-home treatments, physical therapy, or a minimally- or least-invasive surgical procedure.

Don’t let the idea of having another surgery worry you. Having an accurate diagnosis is key to a successful surgery.

The Doctors at International Spine Institute Are Here to Help

Are you or a loved one suffering from Failed Back Surgery Syndrome? Don’t assume that you have to live with the pain. The doctors at International Spine Institute have helped many patients with FBSS overcome their symptoms and regain their quality of life. We understand how frustrating it can be to experience pain again post-surgery, but we’re ready to help. Schedule your free MRI review with our office today and let’s get you on the right road to pain-free living.