Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (a.k.a. FBSS) is a generalized term assigned to those who have had back or spine surgery and have continued to experience pain after the procedure. This term is not an “official” syndrome within the medical industry. Instead, it is a growing designation among the crowd of sufferers for whom surgery didn’t turn out the way they had hoped. In general, no surgery can provide a 100% success rate as there are many reasons a surgical procedure may not work. Even with the best surgeons and the best indicators, a predictive result can be assumed but never guaranteed.
Fusion Failure After Spine Surgery
During fusion surgery, the measurement of success is primarily determined by spinal stability for the patient. If a solid fusion is not obtained but the hardware is intact and provides good stability, the patient may be free of back pain. On the other hand, a patient may experience significant pain despite the fact that a solid fusion was performed. Following this type of surgery, it can take anywhere from three months to a year to make a determination if the surgery was successful. For this reason, most surgeons will not consider further spine surgery if healing time has been less than a year. And only in certain cases where hardware has failed or if there is an obvious reason to do so, would back surgery be considered any sooner.
Years after a fusion surgery the patient may experience recurrent pain. This can happen due to a transfer lesion above or below where the successful fusion occurred. Transfer lesions are most likely to happen after a two-level fusion and are more common in degenerative osteoarthritis conditions, and less common in disc degeneration problems. Regardless, the nerve root can take a long time to heal from a fusion surgery, making the outcome difficult to predict.
Symptoms of FBSS
Common symptoms of failed back surgery syndrome include:
- Persistent, chronic pain that is not associated with the healing process
- New pain at a different location from where surgery occurred
- Restricted mobility
- Numbness or pain radiating through the lower back and into the legs
- Back spasms
What if I suffer from FBSS?
First and foremost, it is important to follow the directions given by your medical team to ensure the best chance for healing. But if you suspect your back surgery has failed, have a conversation with your surgeon to discuss the situation. Likely, they will recommend conservative treatments (e.g. pain medication or therapy) and develop a plan to address the pain.
If the pain doesn’t go away after conservative treatments a second procedure may be recommended. At that point, contact Minnesota Spine Institute to learn about endoscopic spine surgery. These procedures offer a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck and back surgery. Through careful diagnosis, our team will address the specific issues confronting each patient and treat them using the latest advancements that lead to excellent results.