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Failed Back Surgery

    At a Glance

    • Many people who have had some form of back surgery still have significant pain, difficulty performing normal daily activities, and neurological problems.
    • It is estimated that one in five patients who have had back surgery will continue to have persistent, recurrent, or a new problem at or adjacent to their surgery site.
    • These conditions are commonly referred to as “failed spine surgery,” “failed backs,” or “post-laminectomy syndrome.”
    • The key is determining whether a potential surgical problem still exists, then assessing the chances of success with possible additional surgery.


    Symptoms of Failed Back Surgery

    Symptoms may include severe pain, numbness, weakness, sciatica, and possible neurological deficits such as numbness or muscle weakness in a leg. Obesity, de-conditioning, inactivity and drug dependency may often result. Patients and their families can be severely stressed and dysfunctional.

    Often patients of failed back surgeries are physically challenged and have a high rate of emotional and psychological problems. These can include depression, sleep disturbances and a generally poor quality of life.

    Ongoing medical care, consultations, and treatment programs are often fragmented and uncoordinated. Care may be offered in a somewhat a la carte fashion, with no clear end in sight.

    Anatomy & Causes

    These patients may have had prior disc surgery, previous attempted fusions, fractures with deformities, and problems at adjacent levels to a fusion. They may have undergone spinal hardware procedures or an array of other treatments that have failed to successfully treat their back problems.

    The reasons for symptoms are many and complex. Often times, it is a new problem that has developed.

    Patients need to be evaluated from several different perspectives: spine anatomy, pain management, medical (general health), functional, and psychological. This comprehensive approach will identify all the factors contributing to a patient’s problem and lay a framework for a complete treatment program moving forward with or without additional surgery.

    Learn about Failed Back Surgery treatment options.

    Treatment for Failed Back Surgery

    The key to successful treatment moving forward is to determine if a potential surgical problem still exists. To determine this, obtaining a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study, CT Scan, and plain X-Rays to evaluate the spinal anatomy is necessary.

    Other testing such an EMG/Nerve Conduction Study, bone scan, bone density, and a blood test are also helpful. Afterwards, it’s wise to make an appointment with an experienced spine surgeon in order to get a second opinion. Additional consultations may be necessary to complete the evaluation and treatment process.

    If further surgery is being considered, a comprehensive treatment plan needs to be established up front including pain management after surgery, physical therapy and rehabilitation, diet and home exercise, and a realistic return to activities including work and recreational sports if possible. The key term is REALISTIC.

    In many instances, a detox program to get patients off of prescription painkillers is necessary in order for complete recovery and healing to take place. For many, this will be the most challenging aspect of their ongoing care.

    However, most of the time a treatable cause of ongoing pain and disability can be found and properly treated using the above approach with good to excellent results. It does take a major commitment by all parties involved.


    Frequently Asked Questions

    How many surgeries are performed annually and how many of those fail?
    If my first surgery failed can I have a second surgery to correct it?
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