Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS) Overview

What is it?

Failed back surgery syndrome, also called failed back syndrome, is a general term that doctors use 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, treatments such as the AccuraScope procedure have been found to be effective in treating patients with failed back surgery syndrome.

Back Surgery Basics

Back surgery is sometimes used as a treatment for people who have herniated spinal discs, compressed spinal nerves, forms of harmful spinal curvature called kyphosis and scoliosis, spinal fractures related to the advancing effects of osteoporosis or spinal fractures that stem from an accident or other type of traumatic injury. Your doctor may also recommend back surgery for any back pain that doesn’t respond to a range of nonsurgical treatments. Procedures used to treat back-related ailments include a partial removal of spinal bone called a laminectomy, a whole or partial spinal disc removal called a discectomy, a bone-stabilizing cement injection called a vertebroplasty and a spine-stabilizing technique called a spinal fusion.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome Causes

Causes or contributing factors associated with the onset of failed back surgery syndrome include failure to fully repair a herniated disc, recurrence of a herniated disc after surgery, unrelieved spinal nerve or spinal cord compression, surgical accidents that damage nerves or other tissues, post-surgical scar tissue formation, loss of spinal muscle tone following surgery, reduced or increased mobility in your spinal joints and unaddressed spinal instability. Additional factors that increase your risks for the syndrome include smoking during your recovery period, anxiety, sleeping problems, depression and the presence of autoimmune disease, diabetes or any other condition that has system-wide effects on your body.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome Symptoms

While the particular effects of failed back surgery syndrome vary according to your original complaint and the procedure used to correct it, the condition commonly produces back pain, leg pain or a combination of back and leg pain that appears to come from a general area and not one specific, localized spot. Depending on individual circumstances, the characteristics of this pain are described as anything from stabbing or pricking to aching and dull.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome Treatments

Potential treatments for the effects of failed back surgery syndrome include physical therapy to strengthen your back and/or improve your overall back health, oral medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or antidepressants, injections that disrupt pain signaling in your affected nerve(s) or spinal cord, implanted pumps that deliver pain-blocking medication to your spinal cord, and spinal cord stimulation.  Clinical research has also found that the AccuraScope procedure has been able to decrease back pain in patients who have not found relief from previous back surgery.  Please contact your North American Spine patient coordinator for a copy of this research and additional information.