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Signs of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

When a person makes the decision to undergo spine surgery, they don’t do so lightly, but their hopes are high for much-needed relief from their back pain. Imagine that relief wasn’t on the other side.

Unfortunately, between 10% and 46% of people who undergo spine surgery face failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) afterward.

While the hallmark of failed back surgery syndrome is the failure of the surgery to relieve your back pain, FBSS is a bit more complex than that. To shed some light on this important topic, the team at Texas Spine Consultants, including Dr. Michael Hennessy, Dr. Chester Donnally, Dr. Heidi Lee, Dr. Andrew Park, and Dr. Robert Viere, present a few of the more common signs below.

Failed back surgery syndrome definition

Let’s start this discussion by referring to the technical definition of failed back surgery syndrome created by the International Association for the Study of Pain. In short, FBSS is “Lumbar spinal pain of unknown origin either persisting despite surgical intervention or appearing after surgical intervention for spinal pain originally in the same topographical location. The pain may originate after surgery, or the surgery may exacerbate or insufficiently ameliorate existing pain.”

Breaking down the potential symptoms of failed back surgery

Now, let's break down that somewhat technical description of FBSS into plain English by reviewing some common scenarios in which back surgery has failed.

Ongoing back pain

One way in which FBSS presents itself is when you have a set of symptoms beforehand and, after your spine surgery, there’s no change, and those symptoms persist as before.

An unsatisfactory reduction of symptoms

Another way to classify failed back surgery is if the results fall too short of your desired goals. It’s hard to put numbers on something like this, but if your symptoms haven’t been brought down to more manageable levels after your surgery, this might count as a failure.

New pain after back surgery

Another way in which FBSS can occur is if you develop new pain after your back surgery. This pain can develop weeks, months, or years after your surgery.

For example, during a lumbar spinal fusion, we remove the problematic disc and fuse two of your vertebrae together. This fusion creates a larger segment that can place more pressure on the intervertebral discs above and below the fused section of your spine. This can lead to what we call adjacent segment disease, which affects between 5% and 49% of patients who undergo lumbar spinal fusion.

Nerve compression

Some people with FBSS develop nerve issues after their surgery, which can lead to new pain or issues like foot drop, which occurs if a specific lumbar nerve root — the L5 — is compressed.

There are other roads to failed back surgery, but we want to underscore that this is a highly personal outcome. One person’s version of FBSS may differ entirely from another’s, but that doesn’t mean they neither qualify.

If you’re worried about a future back surgery failing or you suspect that you might be experiencing some symptoms of FBSS, we want you to come see us right away. Our goal is the same as yours — to find relief for your back issues — and we leave no stone unturned in our efforts.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment, please contact one of our offices in Addison or Plano, Texas.

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