Understanding Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

Failed back surgery syndrome describes a fairly straightforward problem. Simply put, your spine surgery didn’t resolve your back pain or neck pain. However, this condition can also cause confusion and frustration for patients and their surgeons.

Dr. Arien Smith treats both adult and pediatric spine and brain disorders at Brain and Spine Institute of New York and New Jersey. He offers these insights into failed back surgery syndrome and how to find relief from your symptoms.

Failed back surgery syndrome basics

The name failed back surgery syndrome — sometimes called failed back syndrome, FBS, or FBSS — is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not really a syndrome itself, but rather a general term used to describe a back or spine surgery that doesn’t provide pain relief.

Spine surgery can provide life-changing results for many people, especially if you have a pinched nerve or joint instability. Unfortunately, surgery doesn’t come with a guarantee of success, and up to 40% of people who have spine surgery continue having pain after their procedure.

Factors that can lead to failed back surgery syndrome include:

Sometimes, having other chronic diseases, like diabetes or peripheral artery disease, can also impact the success of your surgery.

Recognizing the signs of failed back surgery syndrome

People undergo back surgery to reduce pain, restore function, and improve their quality of life. As a result, one of the most obvious indicators that your surgery wasn’t a success involves continued pain. However, you can also experience other symptoms, such as:

If this sounds familiar, you could have failed back surgery syndrome.

Finding relief after failed back surgery

Now for the good news. Even if you haven’t found relief with spine surgery, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through your symptoms indefinitely. Dr. Smith offers numerous treatments designed to help you resume daily life pain-free, from exercise and hobbies to family time and work.

To determine the best treatment strategy, Dr. Smith performs a comprehensive exam to reach an accurate diagnosis. Based on these results, he may recommend various therapies. Two highly effective approaches are a pain pump and a spinal cord stimulator.

Pain pump

This method involves surgically implanting a small pain pump underneath the skin of your abdomen. This device delivers medication directly to your spinal cord through a thin tube. 

Unlike oral medications, a pain pump gets the drugs straight to the source of your pain, providing faster relief. Plus, because the medication doesn’t have to go through your digestive tract, you usually need smaller doses to find the same pain relief that you would with oral medication, which means the pump can cause fewer side effects.

Spinal cord stimulator

One of the most innovative solutions for back pain relief doesn’t involve any medication at all. Instead, it relies on neuromodulation — or altering the pain signals going to your brain. 

Spinal cord stimulation also involves an implanted device, with electrodes near your spine powered by a small battery. When enabled, it generates small electrical pulses to nerves in your spinal cord that disrupt the pain signals traveling to your brain. The results? Reduced pain.

If you haven’t found relief from your back pain after surgery, we can help. Book an appointment online, or call one of our convenient New York City locations in Bayside, Queens, and Midtown East, Manhattan, or in East Brunswick or Bayonne, New Jersey.

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