Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

Diagnosis And Treatment

Having back surgery is very common and is usually preceded by careful diagnosis and proper surgery planning.

Sadly, not all back pain surgery goes as anticipated. If you are in pain after back surgery and suffering from severe chronic pain, you may be experiencing failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS). It’s not a simple task to identify the sources of your back pain, and a misdiagnosis of your condition can often lead to FBSS.

At Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona, our goal is to accurately diagnose the specific source of your painful spinal symptoms before developing a personalized treatment approach. Our Personal Pain Mapping techniques help us to identify the pain sources accurately. Often there may be more than one source causing the pain in your spine. If you are struggling with FBSS, you can count on us to carefully diagnose, treat, and select the right surgical procedure to address your back pain.

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Doctor pointing to an image in a series of x-rays.

What Is Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

Failed back surgery syndrome or FBSS is something of a misnomer as it’s not actually a syndrome. This general term describes patients whose back or spine surgery was unsuccessful, and they continue to struggle with pain. FBSS can occur after traditional open back surgery or minimally invasive procedures. For some, the pain is immediate and never subsides. Others experience a gradual return or development of painful symptoms.

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Who is Affected by FBSS?

Failed back surgery generally affects about 30 percent of patients undergoing low back spine surgery. The goal of spine surgery for low back pain is to ablate, decompress, or remove the painful anatomy. However, sometimes additional pain generators may contribute to FBSS, or surgery failed to altogether remove the pain generator.

Back pain can originate from many sources in your spine; therefore, accurate identification is complicated and requires a thorough history and diagnostic workup. Personalized pain mapping takes into account imaging studies, and a patient’s pain story then utilizes diagnostic injections to relieve the pain to pinpoint the pain generator accurately.

What Causes Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

Failed back surgery often has little to do with the talents or experience of the spine surgeon. Instead, it has more to do with the diagnosis process. Because back pain is not as easy to pinpoint as other sources of pain, spinal surgeries are less predictable in their ability to completely relieve symptoms, and FBSS can occur as a result.

Failed back surgery syndrome can be due to one of many causes, including:

  • Inaccurate diagnosis of back pain
  • Surgery performed on wrong area of the spine
  • Scar tissue formation at incision site
  • Nerve damage from surgery
  • Failure to remove all of the damaged disc, resulting in continued pinched nerve
  • Spinal fusion failure
  • Bone spurs, missed disc fragments or reherniation of disc, resulting in continued pinched nerve
  • Lateral recess stenosis, or failure to decompress the area around the exiting nerve
  • Adjacent segment disease, or pain that develops in the area above or below the surgical site

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Model of a human spine

Symptoms of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

The pain a patient feels due to failed back surgery syndrome varies depending on the surgical procedure performed and the condition treated.

Those suffering from FBSS can experience a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • Chronic pain
  • Sharp or stabbing pain
  • Aches or dull pain in the back, legs or neck
  • Back spasms
  • Decreased mobility
  • Pain adjacent to the surgical area
  • Increased dependence on medicine to manage pain symptoms

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Doctor pointing out areas on a human spine model
Detailed drawings of the spine and other bone areas of the human body.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome Diagnosis

When you come to Desert Institute for Spine Care, you’ll experience a different diagnostic process than what you’re used to. We aim to fully understand your pain journey using a thorough, organized and deliberate process. Our proprietary diagnostic technique known as Personalized Pain Mapping accurately diagnoses your pain and helps us develop your personalized treatment plan.

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Treatment for Failed Back Surgery Syndrome in AZ

Patients who’ve experienced failed back surgery syndrome may be hesitant to proceed with further treatment. Many FBSS patients come to DISC for a second opinion because of our extensive expertise in endoscopic spine surgery. This least invasive technique can be a viable treatment option for some patients suffering from FBSS. When you entrust your care to the orthopedic specialists at DISC in Arizona, you’ll find a personalized approach to your care and a wide range of treatment options.

For those who are afraid to pursue surgical intervention after a failed attempt, please understand that we never push surgery. After our careful and thorough diagnostic process, we may recommend conservative care, minimally invasive spine surgery and a full spectrum of non-surgical therapeutic and diagnostic injections that require no incisions, no stitches and no hospital stays.

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Dr Abrams explaining spine x-ray Dr. Abrams laughing

Contact Our Doctors Who Treat Failed Back Surgery Syndrome in Arizona

The best way to avoid unsuccessful back surgery is to meet with a board-certified spine surgeon at DISC. We offer cutting-edge procedures with proven results that are sought out by patients from around the world. We believe that listening and understanding your exact needs is the best way to achieve a successful outcome.

To learn more about treatment options available for failed back surgery syndrome at our Arizona spine centers, contact us today.


Our spine health blog features up-to-date spine education and expert spine tips from our spine specialists here at DISC.

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